Kill Your Friends Review - Nicholas Hoult Shows That Talent Doesn't Matter (By Being Very Talented)

The darkest side of the record industry.

Rating: ˜…˜…˜…˜… You have to hand it to Nicholas Hoult. When he first charmed his way onto screens as the insightful Marcus in About A Boy it would have been bold to suggest the actor had a hope of making it past acting puberty. Not through a lack of talent mind you, but the sheer fact that the odds were against him; he was a child actor in a Hugh Grant vehicle (a good one, but still). And yet a decade-and-a-half on he's really, truly made it. Following a swaggering career-making turn in Skins he's secured a recurring role as an original X-Man, delivered the most quotable line of 2015 (two if you dig "Witness me") and even dated Miss Hollywood J-Law for a while. It's the sort of bet Steven Stelfox, Hoult's character in Kill Your Friends, would never have made - the chance of failure was just too high. We're introduced to Steven by his neatly shined, coke-flecked loafers as he addresses the audience in total self-confidence, "Do these look like the shoes of someone who gives a f*ck about The Velvet Underground." And that is really all you need to know about him.
He's works in A&R for a record label. The department's initials stand for Artists and Repertoire, but it's made abundantly clear early on that his job is nothing to do with talent, or really even music. As he himself alludes to, it's no different to being a stockbroker or speculator - you're in it for the money, not the means by which you get it - aside from the fact people think your job's really "cool". He picks bands to sign not based on their art or ethos, rather their suitability to play to the masses. But, like its characters, what you're seeing publicly is just the outer layer of Kill Your Friends. Over the course of the film, Stelfox commits acts that each time are somehow worse than the one before, making for another great, slimy character with a skewed reality who never gets his comeuppance, yet through Hoult remains rootable (sort of) through it all. There's more than a whiff about Trainspotting to the movie's drug addled - albeit coke, not heroin - speed (something no doubt intentional given the shared feigned disdain for the work of Lou Reed), but Steven is as far from Renton as possible. At one point it does look like the film is taking the moral high road, seeing Steven struggling under creeping professionalism and chastising his despondent lack of awareness, but this is quickly pushed aside as a short moment of fancy; for Steven a brief period of self-doubt. Make no mistake - the film's morality is as black as its humour.
Hoult is surrounded by a bunch of obscure sitcom (and other areas of TV) actors, which would usually be a betrayal of the film's lower budget (and, in fact, if there's one place where the Trainspotting comparison breaks down it's with the limited visual creativity of such financial restrictions), but here it works. The casting is astute for sure, with those slightly unsubtle eccentricities adding to the film's off-kilter approach. What's so interesting about the film is how it isn't just a look into a little-discussed area of the music industry or amoral career climbers; the real key to Kill Your Friends lies in the background and encompasses ideas that Steven would scoff at. In opening and closing sequences there's campaign posters featuring Tony Blair's mug and the promise of a "Fresh Start". Ostensibly both an attack on the hypocrisy that plagued New Labour and the cyclical nature of politics (something that couldn't be more apt in Britain right now), it take this far of menace (Hoult may address the audience, but Stelfox is certainly distant from the viewer) and plonks it right in your lap. Kill Your Friends shows the perennially youthful Hoult can be a grown-up. And a twisted one at that. He's Patrick Bateman by way of Peytr Baelish, yet still blokey enough you'd probably have a pint with him.
Kill Your Friends is in UK cinemas from 6th November.
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Film Editor (2014-2016). Loves The Usual Suspects. Hates Transformers 2. Everything else lies somewhere in the middle. Once met the Chuckle Brothers.