Kill Your Friends
Owen Harris’ Kill Your Friends tells a -hopefully- exaggerated story of how cut-throat the music industry could be at the height of the Britpop scene in the late 90s.
The film is adapted from John Niven’s novel by Niven himself. His novel was based on his own experiences as an A&R man during this period. I haven’t read the book or done any research into how real the novel is but I can only imagine how much has been embellished to make the whole thing seem worse.
Steven Stelfox (Nicholas Hoult) is the focus of this film with almost every scene featuring him and extended narration monologues bringing the viewer into his thinking to better understand why he makes certain decisions. The world is built up very well and the nature of the industry being make or break for everyone at any given point is made abundantly clear. One hit doesn’t guarantee you keep your job for very long as the next failure could cost you everything you’ve worked for. In order to be the best you have to be willing to compromise your morality to keep yourself on top.
This story isn’t new by any stretch. There have been innumerable films and books that follow a protagonist always worried about keeping his reputation and going to ridiculous lengths to discredit others -or worse- to make sure that they are secure. In a lot of ways the familiarity of the whole thing is the best thing that the film has going for it. People seem to like shady protagonists who say witty yet offensive things and generally make the lives of others miserable. Just look at Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street for a recent example. There’s a romanticised notion that comes with that level of power of success and it’s interesting to watch these characters go through these horrific motions.
Stelfox is no Jordan Belfort and Nicholas Hoult isn’t quite suited to this sort of role. He comes across as being a little to nice so when he tries to do something profoundly awful it seems a little more unbelievable. Everyone around him acts as if he has that respect and that swagger that he is supposed to have but Hoult doesn’t quite put it across. He’s not bad in the role by any means but his demeanour is just a little off.
Having said that, there are some scenes that are incredibly well done by him. There’s an imagined rant where he tells an indie group exactly what it will mean to sign for a big record company that manages to be equal parts brutal and hilarious. Another great scene is when he struggles to come up with a response to a question his boss asks and guides the audience through the thought process before giving something non committal.
One thing that really doesn’t work about the character is that I don’t believe that he would be a remorseless killer in the way that he is portrayed. I was fine with the methods he used to discredit his colleagues so that they would be taken out of the running for the job that he wanted but killing without any semblance of guilt makes him seem somewhat inhuman and makes it a bit more difficult to root for him. The film is already fighting an uphill battle to make the audience root for Stelfox so I think it would have been better had he been underhanded to sabotage others. It would have make the story feel more real as well.
The supporting cast aren’t a hugely prominent presence but there are some notable stand-outs. Rebecca (Georgia King) is Stelfox’ PA who is fed up of that job and doesn’t care about what moral boundaries she has to cross to get there. King does a good job but the character isn’t really around enough to make a big enough impression.
Edward Hogg’s DC Woodham is an effective nuisance character who gets a little too close to Stelfox’ first murder and uses the information he has to attempt to extort him. There’s a minor game of cat and mouse played between the two characters throughout the film that ends in a way that gets him off Stelfox’ back but really strains credibility when it happens.
In general the film is entertaining enough but the midsection drags on with a lot of repeated ideas and run on scenes where people discuss things that they have already been over on several occasions. Things do pick up towards the end and the ending does a great job of hinting that any victory gained by Stelfox will surely be short lived.
An entertaining if unevenly paced fictitious look at the music industry during the Britpop era in Britain during the late 90s.
The film follows A&R man Steven Stelfox as he chases after the next hit. His world is established really well and it’s made abundantly clear that having one hit doesn’t guarantee that you’ll keep your job as you are only as good as your last failure. As a result people have to do some questionable moral things to keep themselves on top.
Nicholas Hoult is a good actor and even good in this film but he isn’t quite suited to this role. His demeanour is a little bit off and he seems overall too nice to be as cut throat as he needs to be.
Some scenes are incredibly well acted by him such as an imagined rant to an indie band where he highlights the reality of them accepting a deal with a massive record company. A scene where he mulls over how to respond to his boss is another highlight.
One thing that doesn’t work about the character is that it is difficult to believe that he is a remorseless killer as depicted. I could accept that he would go to any length to discredit someone or ruin their career but murdering others without guilt is a bit of a stretch. It does nothing to help humanise him or make the audience root for him.
Stelfox’ PA Rebecca is a welcome if underused presence that shows how the industry can poison others. The cat and mouse game he plays with police officer Woodham who is sniffing around the facts of the murder that Stelfox committed is well done but has a ridiculous conclusion.
In general the film is entertaining but lacks majorly in the middle section. Things do pick up towards the end and the last hint that any victory will be short lived is very effective.