A little throw back Thursday review for you guys. Currently on DVD, I figured I’d share a review I wrote a little while back, for the Oscar contending Whiplash
“There are no two words in the English language more harmful than good job.”
Whiplash stars Miles Teller as Andrew Neyman, a promising young jazz drummer in a prestigious musical academy. Selected by the legendary instructor Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) to be a part of the school’s top ensemble. The young musician is coached by the acclaimed Fletcher and is an awe but also terrified of him. Andrew sets out to become one the top jazz percussionists in the world, rising from alternate to lead, while trying to live up to the perfectionist Fletcher’s expectations. Eventually Andrew learns that Fletcher’s quest for perfection knows no bounds. Fletcher is openly willing to flog his students with emotionally crippling verbally abusive and sometimes physical attacks, leading to a small “cat and mouse” between the two in order to reach the perfection they both strive for.
Whiplash is an intense adrenaline ride, begging the question: how much are you willing to give for your art? Examining what it takes to be great, Whiplash grinds you to pieces from the get go. Succeeding on pure suspense, this film becomes a thriller study on the relationship between a reclusive teen, and the patriarchal figure of a man he believes can make his dreams come true. The pace is as electric and frantic as the music. There is not a dull moment, and there is no escape. This movie is like a punch in the gut, putting the audience through the ringer. Director Damien Chazelle brings this maddening teacher student relationship to life, showing the lengths in which someone can push themselves to be the best, and how far their mentor will push them to get there.
Cinematically, Whiplash is an extremely personal film. Utilizing close ups and quick cuts to showcase some of the most unpleasant moments. The movie is almost designed to make you uncomfortable, and succeeds in bringing you into the action. Chazelle puts you in Andrews’ seat, you feel all that he feels, and you’re pulled into his anxious and isolated mind. This approach produces a stifling melodramatic atmosphere, making for one of the most intense experiences on screen seen this year.
The performances of the two leads is a back and forth that goes unrivaled. Simmons and Teller respectively bring their all, allowing us to watch a battle of the wills like no other. What J.K. Simmons does as Fletcher is nothing short of astounding, showing the world why he is one the best character actors around. Fletcher is the proverbial boogie man to his students. Early on he lurks over practices and rehearsals, students speak of him softly and anxiously, he is the mysterious and frightening figure and students pray for his attention. Simmons is brilliantly terrifying, shifting from empathic paternal teacher to a foul mouthed monster man, blurring the lines of what is meant to motivate his students and what is just a part of his actual personality. Simmons dominates the screen, sometimes cartoonishly, but is still surging and captivating as the agonizingly maddening Fletcher.
Miles Teller takes a break from his slew of goofy sarcastic “Bro” characters to play a shy introverted young man. He is subtle and yet powerful. Perfectly finding the cross between insecurity and confidence, Teller turns in the finest performance of his young career to date. Portraying Andrew as an apprehensive young man, with drive, a passion, and a skillset that is unique. Teller never comes off as over confident, but still allows us to see the talent that Fletcher tries to push. Teller’s performance is beautifully complex and understated.
Whiplash is all about style and emotion. While there isn’t loads of backstory, you’re given just enough to allow you to feel for the characters. Andrew is given a love interest in the form of Nicole (Melissa Benoist). There is almost no chemistry here, but there isn’t really meant to be. Nicole is used as a plot device to exhibit the sacrifices that Andrew feels he needs to make to become great. Paul Reiser as Andrews’ father Jim, exists simply to juxtapose the paternal relationship represented by Simmons. Both the love interest and the father are minor subplots that aren’t necessarily explored, but also do not need to be, as they would only detract from the pacing.
Whiplash is a whirlwind of rage and fury. It’s a somewhat violent film, but not in the traditional sense. Chazelle doesn’t relent on the character’s intensity, but also provides the audience with commonalities between the two. Andrew is certainly a victim of, and also at times complicit, in the abuse he receives from Fletcher. The back and forth between the two as they rip one another to pieces is invigorating and exciting. Chazelle manages to bring real tension and suspense to a subject matter that hasn’t been explored with such intensity before. The last 15 minutes is one of the most exhilarating sequences on screen in a long time. Intently speaking almost exclusively in music, it will leave you speechless.
Whiplash is currently available on DVD and Digital Download, do yourself a favor and go pick up a copy ASAP.
5/5 Epic Bro