Gabriel Smith reviews one of the years most anticipated films, Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash.
Whiplash is a nervy, visceral experience. There are numerous shots of blood, sweat and tears, nearly all of it falling on a drum-set (rarely has such physicality been portrayed by an actor who spends nearly all of his screen time sitting down).
Miles Teller plays Andrew Neyman, a first-year drummer at the best music school in the country. It quickly becomes clear that to succeed means to grasp and hold the attention of teacher Terence Fletcher, played with furious tenacity by J.K. Simmons. He is not so much your scariest school teacher but the scariest bully, put in a position of absolute authority.
Andrew is someone fighting between introversion and an innate cockiness. The trailers portray a meek student contrast against a violent teacher but instead we actually experience a violent, yet possibly justified, teacher against a student with a possibly justifiable entitlement complex. Is Andrew truly great at what he does? Regardless, we have a thrilling and gloriously relatable film from director Damien Chazelle.
It is always a marvel to see a thriller made of an unlikely subject, and Whiplash does for jazz what Moneyball did for maths and Locke did for car journeys. If towards the end it strays into melodrama, at least each performance is as awards-worthy as the other. Teller’s Andrew is raw and conflicted and Simmons is endlessly enigmatic as Fletcher cycles through abuse, inspiration and trickery. They are helped by Chazelle’s direction. Chazelle, himself an ex-drummer, crafts a story which ponders over awarding greatness rather than effort. He employs a few basic rotes (Fletcher and Andrew are rarely seen in the same shot) and places the action in a New York made sexy with a jazz soundtrack and bumpy, sweet first dates.
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