A promising young drummer enrolls at a cutthroat music conservatory where his dreams of greatness are mentored by an instructor who will stop at nothing to realize a student’s potential.
Starring two of the best performances you’ll see this year, ‘Whiplash’ is a phenomenal exercise in intensity in the unlikely environment of jazz music. Following wannabe musician Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller), the film focuses on his attempts to emulate his heroes such as Charlie Parker and Buddy Rich, and win the approval of psychotic jazz band leader Terence Fletcher (J. K. Simmons). The film is an absolutely exhausting watch, and I felt completely exhilarated after leaving the cinema. Throughout the runtime, you can literally feel every blood, sweat and tear, as Andrew pushes himself to the limit and beyond to be the best he can be. There have been many films before about the teacher/mentor relationship, but I don’t think I’ve seen anything as brutally intense as ‘Whiplash’.
The film has garnered numerous nominations from the awards bodies, with the most prominent being the praise for the outstanding J.K. Simmons, a character actor who most film and TV fans will recognise but perhaps won’t be able to place. As Terence Fletcher, he feels like R. Lee Ermey’s Gunnery Sergeant from ‘Full Metal Jacket’ dialled up to 11, a walking ball of rage who believes greatness only comes from the harshest learning environment. Simmons has shown his range before in his role in the HBO TV series ‘Oz’ as neo-nazi Vern Schillinger, and he brings some terrific nuances to this role. Beyond the obvious scenes of anger, and some of the hilarious putdowns, I particularly love the way he controls his surroundings, namely in the way he signals for the band to stop with a swift movement of his arm. It’s physical acting at its finest, simple but effective, and it helps Simmons to really embody the character.
Simmons will rightfully get most of the plaudits, but this should take nothing away from the second outstanding performance in the film from Miles Teller, showing terrific range that hasn’t been clear in his mostly comedic and young adult roles to date. Teller’s Andrew is determined, arrogant and utterly convinced that he will be the best, and this creates a fascinating counterpart to Fletcher and his methods. The film makes one minor misstep around the half way stage, with a moment that not only feels unrealistic, but feels like the filmmakers injecting a bit of additional drama that isn’t required. Perhaps there was concern that a film about jazz needed something extra, but the script more than manages on its own and it’s a sequence that the film could have done without.
The film concludes with one of the most sensational sequences I’ve seen in a long time as the dance between Fletcher and Neiman comes to a head and reaches a satisfying conclusion. ‘Whiplash’ is an outstanding debut feature from Damien Chazelle, a sports movie with jazz that might just be the most thrilling and intense experience of the year. Everyone really must see this film!
Directed By: Damien Chazelle
Starring: Miles Teller, J. K. Simmons and Paul Reiser