Nicholas Hoult first rose to fame in 2002 at the age of just twelve in comedy drama About a Boy and has went from strength to strength ever since, starring in teen-series Skins as well as hitting Hollywood in Marvel’s X-Men movies. Now he has his most extreme role to date in dark comedy crime thriller ‘Kill Your Friends’, directed by Owen Harris. Based on the controversial novel of the same name by Scottish author John Niven, the plot takes place in the cut-throat music industry at the height of the Britpop era, following cocksure A&R man Steven Stelfox (Hoult), as he tries to work his way to the top. When a promotion comes up at the expense of his hapless manager Schneider (Dustin Demri-Burns), Steven and his colleague Roger Waters (James Corden) are in competition for the sought-after position. With label rival Tony Parker-Hall (Tom Riley) thwarting his efforts at every turn, can he do enough to impress company boss Derek Sommers (Jim Piddock) and get the job he believes he deserves?
From the off, the satirical style is made very apparent as the ruthless protagonist smashes down the fourth wall in the opening five minutes, and proceeds to talk straight down the lens of the camera, introducing his friends and foes around the office. Stelfox’s articulate internal monologue invites the audience into his twisted state of mind, giving the film an amusing swagger that is complimented by a brilliant yet blindingly obvious soundtrack featuring Blur, Oasis, Radiohead et al. The storytelling hinges on a substance-influenced mix of snap decisions and calculated mind games of the central character, and director Harris is not afraid to shock with moments of bloody violence that earn the picture an 18 rating certification; a rare occurrence in a time where brutality is watered down.
With clear similarities to Filth’s junkie policeman Bruce Robertson or psychotic investment banker Patrick Bateman from American Psycho, the unenviable challenge for Nicholas Hoult is not to simply come across as copycat, and to make Steven Stelfox just as memorable. While I feel that the film itself borrows too much from its influences in terms of the visual approach and editing, I think Hoult carries enough weight to give the villainous Stelfox proper depth, and although his views are skewed and his actions are mostly unforgiveable, he is a lot of fun to watch. The supporting cast hold back enough as not to get in Hoult’s way as he chews the scenery, but among the stand-outs are Craig Roberts as Stelfox’s timid but loyal scout Darren, and Ed Hogg as DC Woodham, a sleazy cop and wannabe songwriter.
‘Kill Your Friends’ relies heavily on the stylised approach adopted by past works tackling similar subject matter, and because of this there is a distinct lack of originality. However, as it borrows its ideas from enjoyable material, it turns out well. Nicholas Hoult’s wildly charismatic performance as the despicable yet at times hilarious Steven Stelfox is interesting enough to steer away from simply emulating others. I think that John Niven’s book is worthy of the cinema treatment it has received and whichever label you stick to it, whether it’s Britain’s answer to American Psycho or Trainspotting with money, it is an entertaining and energetic piece of guitar heavy, drug-fuelled and exaggerated nineties nostalgia.