An A&R man working at the height of the Britpop music craze goes to extremes in order to find his next hit.
‘Kill Your Friends‘ was always going to be a challenge to review, given the book it’s based on by John Niven is one of the funniest and sharpest satires I’ve read in recent years. This poses a particular challenge to review the film on its own merits without constantly comparing it to the novel, and it’s a challenge I have almost certainly failed. Ultimately, I enjoyed the film, but I don’t think it really gets to the heart of what makes the book such a raucous delight, and the end result feels a lot more dated than edgy. The film delves into the British music industry of the late 90s as everyone is trying to find the next Oasis or Blur to tell the story of 27 year old A&R man, Steven Stelfox, a self confessed hater of bands who nonetheless is extremely driven to rise to the top. Steven lives a depraved, hedonistic lifestyle where he fully takes advantage of the perks of his job and has an unhealthy relationship with alcohol, drugs and women. The book is told entirely from Steven’s perspective and the film tries to replicate this through the use of narration, but it isn’t nearly as effective.
The problems start with John Niven’s script, adapted from his own novel, and you can’t help but feel that an established screenwriter could have brought the story to the screen with more style and a greater understanding of the differences between the two art forms. Niven’s script is faithful as expected and it does play around well with the timelines (the book is told in a linear fashion), but some of Steven’s insights worked better on the page than on the screen, with certain lines coming off cruder and more mean spirited than intended. It also suffers from the classic problem of trying to fit too much story into a feature runtime and this leaves the end result feeling overstuffed and the pacing off. The script isn’t aided by the mediocre direction and production values which struggle to elevate this beyond the feel of a TV movie, and the performances just aren’t up to standard for a feature film. In the lead role, Nicholas Hoult is perhaps slightly miscast as Stelfox but he’s grown as an actor in the past couple of years and he relishes getting into the head of a dark and morally corrupt character. Alongside him, the supporting cast are all over the place with different actors seemingly going for different tones and the end result feels off kilter. James Corden is good fun as one of Stelfox’s colleagues, as is Joseph Mawle, but then we have Craig Roberts playing the material straight and I don’t know what Ed Hogg is doing as DC Woodham, but his performance is dreadful for someone with such a crucial role.
If my complaints sound like those of a book reader disappointed in an adaptation of a book they loved, then that would be fair. I did enjoy the film overall (despite my comments above) and at times the film can be incredibly funny and the soundtrack generates some inspired sequences (‘Beetlebum’ by Blur towards the beginning in particular). The satire isn’t as pronounced as it could be, but it does get in some sharp insights about the music industry at the time, particularly around the idea that success was primarily based on luck and good fortune as opposed to any genuine talent, with A&R men always a few steps behind as they tried to replicate the sound of established successful bands.
Overall, ‘Kill Your Friends’ is an entertaining, over the top story of excess, but it lacks the edge or satirical wit of its source material and comparisons to the likes of ‘American Psycho’ and ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ are not exactly warranted.
Directed By: Owen Harris
Starring: Nicholas Hoult, James Corden, Georgia King, Jim Piddock, Craig Roberts, Tom Riley, Joseph Mawle, Ed Hogg, Ed Skrein, Moritz Bleibtreu and Rosanna Arquette