The black comedy “Kill Your Friends” might bill itself as satirical, though it hardly ever veers into farcical or absurd territory. In fact, many parts of the film feel all too real and accurate. The lead character, Nicholas Hoult’s loathsome yet endearing A&R rising star Steven Stelfox, speaks boldly about how the keys to his success mainly involve ignoring artistry and holding listeners’ taste in contempt.
Sound exaggerated? It shouldn’t. Heck, it should sound familiar. That same mentality drives not only the music business but also the movie industry … and probably just about any mass-produced art form, for that matter. It’s far easier for the powers that be to manufacture and then force-feed a style or product down the public’s throat. Tell them what they need; do not take the time to listen to what they want.
As can be gleaned from the film’s title, “Kill Your Friends” follows Steven as he lets the insecurities of a fear-based industry drive him to illogical extremes. The transformation is hardly accidental or unconscious, either. Steven has a winking, knowing participatory role in his moral descent and corporate ascent. He functions quite a bit like Jordan Belfort in “The Wolf of Wall Street,” our slithering guide through the underbelly of an industry thriving on the pursuit of pleasure (and copious controlled substances).
Hoult’s performance, however, recalled another actor for me – a young Tom Cruise, maybe circa-mid 1980s. His Steven is cocky, self-assured and somehow completely magnetic. The confident attitude is merely his shield, albeit one that he wields well, to fend off any doubters of his performance. Yet he is far from perfect in maintaining the ruse. Tough as he may seem, the thought of having to substitute smarts for swagger absolutely terrifies Steven. “Kill Your Friends” proves most compelling during the moments when Hoult allows Steven to let his guard down and lay his insecurities bare … though his unhinged mayhem comes in a very close second. B+ /