Kill Your Friends
TIFF 2015: Nicholas Hoult heads up an underwhelming music industry satire
Owen Harris' less-than-thrilling satire wants to shock you but it has a hard enough time sustaining interest. An adaptation of John Niven's 2008 bestseller, it's set in 1997 toward the tail-end of the Britpop craze. Rather than riding the wave of optimism which saw Labour sweep into power, Kill Your Friends instead offers up an exposé of the music industry that takes superficially sinister turns yet lacks the comic chops or dynamism to amuse or excite.
Nicholas Hoult plays the hollow, grasping Steven Stelfox, a man who'll do whatever it takes to rise to the top in an A&R job that he doesn't seem to care about and for which he has very limited aptitude. He does enjoy the money and status, being the kind of massive wanker that modern cinema loves to hate. James Corden plays his buddy Waters, Tom Riley his rival Parker-Hall, Georgia King is his too-talented assistant Rebecca, and Craig Roberts his wide-eyed muso scout Darren. When Steven finds himself in a spot of rather bloody bother, Edward Hogg's dishevelled detective attempts to suss him out (and shake him down).
Although original novelist / screenwriter Niven's knowledge of record companies is in no doubt (he worked in the industry for a decade) and the book has its admirers, there's something rather stale about this coked-up black comedy, whose knives are out but blunted by familiarity. It forgets that in order for its gruesome events to have impact, you have to build contrast, create jeopardy, and there has to be someone to give a toss about. The cast aren't great: Corden is gross, Riley is bland, King is smug, Hogg is slimy, Ed Skrein's wide-boy act at least raises a fleeting smile, and Rosanna Arquette is only in it for about a minute. A handful of well-judged moments from the ever-likeable Roberts are amongst the few highlights.
Similar films have had the luxury of leaning on a bravura central performance: Christian Bale had a whale of a time in American Psycho; Fight Club had Brad Pitt and Edward Norton; even the comparably problematic Filth had a barnstorming James McAvoy gnashing his teeth at the fore. Compared to such company and under such pressure, Hoult simply doesn't have the presence or conviction to cut it. And Harris' debut lacks visual interest or momentum, spending too much time in drab office environs. It's less deliciously nasty, more depressingly so.
Screening as part of the Toronto International Film Festival 2015. General release from Fri 6 Nov.