Review: Kill Your Friends

kill-your-friends

DIR: Owen Harris • WRI: John Niven • PRO: Gregor Cameron • ED: Bill Smedley • DOP: Gustav Danielsson • DES: Charlotte Pearson • MUS: Junkie XL • CAST: Nicholas Hoult, Ed Skrein, James Corden

With perspective comes clarity, and history is beginning to pass judgement on the 1990s. For all its Celtic Tigers and post-Soviet strut, the last years of the second millennium are beginning to look strangely hollow, strangely drab – the fag end of an exhausted century – and those of us who grew up in England during that time have to admit that, for the most part, it was a bit crap. While our parents were nourished by the optimism of the ’60s or the passionate politics of the’ 70s, we were served up reheated banality, commodified rebellion and the vacant leer of abandoned ideals – Oasis, The Spice Girls, New Labour.

Kill Your Friends is set in the blackened heart of this cultural wasteland – specifically the 1997 music industry. Adapted from his own novel by John Niven, the action revolves around Steven Stelfox (Nicholas Hoult), a record label scout with a weakness for cocaine, misogyny and murder. As Britpop rules the waves, Steven pursues his sole aim: to vanquish his professional competitors and become head of the company’s A&R department. A proud psychopath, success (preferably at the expense of others) is the meaning of Steven’s life and he disdains anyone who doesn’t share the same philosophy. Luckily for Steven pretty much everyone in Kill Your Friends does appear to share the same philosophy and the film presents a year in the life of this dog-eat-dog corporate music hell.

The cynicism is relentless and often viciously funny. Niven’s real life experience as an A&R man added a genuine venom to his novel, and many of his most caustic putdowns have made it into the script. Everybody’s in it for themselves and nobody escapes contempt: talentless pop wannabes, earnest indie vegans, managers, journalists, and of course that special blob of ignorance known as ‘the public’. It’s an endurance test of misanthropy, but the script zings with bitterness and there’s something almost admirable in the way the film extinguishes any spark of empathy, humanity or hope.

Kill Your Friends will inevitably be compared to American Psycho, and there are also shades of Trainspotting and Fight Club. Unfortunately those comparisons don’t do the film any favours. All three rise above this offering because they more effectively explore the dark neuroses that lie behind each era’s shiny happy face. While Patrick Bateman’s nihilism can be seen as a perverse rebellion against amoral ’80s materialism, it’s hard to see Steven Stelfox as representing anything other than squalid, vitriolic nastiness.

The result is a shortage of satirical spice. The film starts and ends with images of a grinning Tony Blair – billboards hanging ominously on the edge of shot – but it’s a stretch to view Kill Your Friends as any kind of attack on ’90s superficiality or the betrayals of Blairism. Instead, director Owen Harris seems happy to limit the film’s bile to its primary subject – the malignant narcissism of the pop music world. Perhaps this is a product of Niven’s script, which doesn’t stray too far from the source novel, but a more interesting approach to its fin de siècle setting would’ve been nice. Stock footage and ’90s anthems are all well and good, but the film misses the opportunity to join a few cultural dots.

Having said that, Kill Your Friends is sharp, entertaining and watchable. Thirty-somethings will bask in the soundtrack and musical references, and the film is fun for a while. In the end though, a bit like Britpop itself, everything becomes slightly repetitive, with a nagging lack of originality and depth.

Gareth Thornton

18
103 minutes (See IFCO for details)

Kill Your Friends is released 6th November 2015

 

 

 

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Begin Again

begin again

DIR/WRI: John Carney  PRO: Tobin Armbrust, Anthony Bregman  DOP: Yaron Orbach  ED: Andrew Marcus   DES: Chad Keith  MUS: Gregg Alexander  CAST: Keira Knightley, Adam Levine, James Corden, Mark Ruffalo

“A true New York story about the magical opportunities that can be found under this great city’s bright lights,” is how John Carney describes his latest film Begin Again.  Featuring musical contributions from names such as Danielle Brisbois, Gregg Alexander and Glen Hansard, Begin Again is a musical comedy-drama that upholds Carney’s belief in the power of musical collaboration to bring lost souls together, as previously seen in his 2006 film Once.

The film stars Keira Knightley and Adam Levine as Gretta and Dave, a long-term couple and songwriting partnership who move to New York where Dave lands a deal with a major label. When Gretta finds herself alone following a betrayal, she meets disgraced record label executive Dan (Mark Ruffalo) at an East Village open mic.  Captivated by her raw talent, Dan insists on a musical collaboration with Gretta in order to harbour the musical authenticity they both value.

While the film could have potentially fallen into the trap of simply ‘Americanising’ the Once scenario, it nonetheless holds its own.  Moreover, the film evokes a sense of universality, as both English and American humour and mannerisms are successfully combined together in a well-written screenplay that can be equally appreciated by audiences on both sides of the Atlantic.  However, Carney relies on more than just words for his storytelling power, as he aptly incorporates music into the film in order to expose what happens beyond the dialogue; throughout the film, music is shown to reveal the true nature of relationships and personalities, while at the same time bringing the simple urban surroundings of New York to life.

Furthermore, while Knightley and Ruffalo have a charming on-screen relationship as Gretta and Dan, the most likeable pairing is actually Gretta and her busking friend Steve (James Corden).  This is largely due to the fresh source of comic relief provided by Corden, which works well with the sharp comments of the unassuming yet opinionated Gretta. This is emphasised by the documentary, ‘fly on the wall’ style of the film, which make the character interactions seem genuine.

However, despite the film’s claims of promoting musical authenticity, it nevertheless falls victim to the commercialism that it tries to overthrow.  Knightley’s supposedly ‘live’ vocals are clearly processed by Auto-Tune, therefore depriving Gretta’s music of its rawness and transforming it into a commodity.  It is also difficult to ignore the fact that Gretta never really achieves independence over her own music as Dan, like a true big-label producer, seems to have total control over the production of the album they set out to record.  This would be forgivable if the film included one stand-out song such as that of ‘Falling Slowly’ in Once.  Unfortunately, the soundtrack lacks such a song, which may come as a disappointment to fans of Carney’s previous musical offering.  Moreover, Carney tends to overestimate the power of music to change one’s life for the better, as the outcome of one particular character’s individual story seems too good to be true.  Therefore, like the film’s music, the plot ultimately becomes subject to formulaic mass-production, rather than achieving a sense of authenticity.

While Begin Again does have its obvious contradictions, its fresh wit, likeable cast and musical plot progression gives it the potential to be the ‘feel good’ film of the summer months once it has its Irish premiere at Galway Film Fleadh.

Aisling Daly

15A (See IFCO for details)
103 mins

Begin Again is released on 11th July 2014

Begin Again – Official Website

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CwLuDO_Cxfc&feature=kp

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