Kill Your Friends

Year: 2015
Production Co: Unigram
Director: Owen Harris
Writer: John Nivem
Cast: Nicholas Hoult, James Corden

Kill Your Friends introduces itself to you by asserting that the music industry was cutthroat back in its heyday, and then it repeats – and finally labours – the point over and over again, spinning a metaphorical tale about a guy who's such a killer in the industry that he's an actual killer.

Steven (Nicholas Hoult, in a rare lead role after a long winning streak), is an A&R (artists and repertoire) executive at a London music label in the late 90s, a time where sex, drugs and money sloshed around the system in truckloads in the final days before the Internet eviscerated the whole industry.

He's responsible for finding and signing the acts that will form the soundtrack of most of our lives and transform the dreams of the young hopefuls his label signs, and as we've seen in movies about the film industry, traits like self-centredness, professional sabotage and backstabbing are more important than integrity, taste or professionalism to make it. He shares his rung on the ladder with Roger (James Corden) and wants his boss' job so badly he's prepared to do anything to get it.

Through a lot of profane, cynical voice-over, we learn Steven is a materialistic nihilist who hates everyone and everything – including music and bands – except for success. The film spins a tale of his ascent to the top that goes through several episodes of ups and downs, lots of boozing, snorting and shagging and even murder.

We're supposed to be amazed at the depth of depravity of the people in this particular time and place, but you actually get the feeling the filmmakers really wanted Kill Your Friends to remind you of Trainspotting but were too obvious about it. It's just a bit too smugly offensive, seeming to wave whatever red flags it can against decency to get your attention and inspire your outrage.

Thankfully, it does at least have the courage of its convictions. Steven is a thoroughly unlikeable person, and making him a literal killer as a metaphor for being a professional one isn't scrimped on. It's always hard to make the bad guy your main character and Hoult almost – but not quite – has the strength of presence to shoulder the whole film.

But his efforts aren't helped by the actual story, which is a bit of a mess. It feels like the mandate from the producers and financiers was merely to make a profane, offensive movie that causes shocks and laugher in equal measure and a sub-par writer was hired to chuck a bunch of situations and characters together to do so. It was however adapted by John Niven from his own novel, so it seems instead that some visual X factor has been lost in translation.

There are some funny lines and moments, but it's not as threatening or blackly funny as it wants to be.

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