“What music do I like? Whatever’s profitable.”
I’ve said before, many times, how I try very hard to read a book before I see the film it’s based on, especially if it’s interesting looking or if someone I trust recommends it to me. Of course, there’s a limit, I absolutely will NOT be reading any of the Hunger Games books, ever. But Kill Your Friends looked like an interesting read and it was recommended to me by a friend who, if he recommended them, would have me buying animal porn that starred Japanese men with Hitler moustaches and bowler hats because I know full well it would be worth a butcher’s if he says it is.
So, comparisons to American Psycho – a book I genuinely loathed and couldn’t finish – be damned, I grabbed John Niven’s nineties music business romp and hid myself in a corner for a bit to read. Sadly, this is where my comparison to Bret Easton Ellis’ novel starts, because I couldn’t finish the book. I hated it. I hated the characters, the setting, the dialogue, everything; so at a measly 47%, my kindle has been retired for a bit and I hoped that, much like American Psycho before it, the film turns out to be much better than the book that I couldn’t stand. I was genuinely fearful as our protagonist – a word that really doesn’t suit our main character, Steven Stelfox – uttered the words “Get fucked. You couldn’t last ten minutes” as I thought I quite possibly won’t.
Steven Stelfox is a young A&R executive, hip deep in the mid-nineties British music business at the height of the brit-pop era. Ambitious, in that “I want to have everything, but it sounds like awfully hard work” kind of way; the hungry Artists and Repertoire (nope, I didn’t know what A&R was either – I’m still none the wiser) agent is far more comfortable conniving and back-stabbing his way to the top and isn’t adverse to treading on and stepping over his friends and colleagues to get what he wants. As we learn very quickly, he’s more than willing to quite literally kill his friends if it means a better office.
As we come to find out, the music business is a cutthroat business, and successes and failures come in at extremes. Success can mean a big pay check and a happy, easy life; but failure can mean your job. We meet Stelfox as he is dancing along a razor sharp edge between the two; without a hit record and a way to make his name for quite some time but always seemingly on the cusp of making a killer move to make himself and his label a ton of money. The problem for Stelfox, however, is that he is more adept at accidentally sabotaging himself than he is at discovering hit records and his preference of snorting cocaine instead of working is beginning to get the better of him. Among a haze of booze, drugs, women and music both good and bad; Stelfox and his ilk are searching for the next big thing and, perhaps more importantly, putting all their effort into making sure their counterparts, their enemies, don’t get their hands on the hit makers they are discovering.
Nicholas Hoult is fast becoming an actor whom I would watch, no matter what he was in. His awesome turn in Mad Max: Fury Road earlier in the year was spectacular. But in a completely different and relatively original role, his portrayal of Steven Stelfox is just as good. The hate fuelled music agent who seemingly runs on a massive amount of cocaine and alcohol without having a need or want to slow down is the purest form of the word “anti-hero” since The Terminator and he best reason to cheer for a bad guy since Riddick as he snorts his way into and back out of trouble on several continents with a lot of money at stake. The contempt he has for his co-workers, and us, the audience he talks to throughout the film oozes sinisterly from the screen as he pulls off a world-class “What the fuck is this?” face with every awful new band he’s forced to listen to for our pleasure. As his world collapses around him and he fights to build it back up before it’s too late, Stelfox is an interesting, if completely unlikable, character that no one can relate to, but we can all love to hate. We don’t want him to find redemption and we don’t want him to come out on top, but we know he will and he’ll drag us kicking and screaming with him.
With a tremendous supporting cast that includes Georgina King, James Corden, Jim Piddock and Ed Skrein (I know no-one else likes him, but I do, dammit!) Kill Your Friends is a tremendously dark comedy that will have you feeling bad every single time you laugh, but won’t actually stop you from laughing. With a (not completely unexpected) soundtrack that is guaranteed to bring those memories rolling back, even if it does play a little like “Now That’s What I Call Music 1997” minus the Spice Girls poisonous shit, Dutch music producer Junkie XL has done an amazing job on everything from the licensed music to his own composed score that instantly transports the audience to the end of one of the most insane decades for music in Britain and keeps us there for the duration of the drug fuelled flick.
From the narcissism to the petty one-upmanship; from the feel, tone and attitude of the main character’s narration to the uncomfortably extreme violence; whilst Kill Your Friends feels like it’s influenced quite heavily by the writings of, and subsequent films based on, Hunter S. Thompson, its comparisons to American Psycho certainly aren’t unfounded or unwarranted. But Kill Your Friends does do enough to separate itself from most of the dark crime thrillers we’ve been getting and is a glorious film to behold.