UK Release Date: 9th January 2015
Runtime: 106 minutes
Director: Damien Chazelle
Writer: Damien Chazelle
Starring: Miles Teller, JK Simmons, Melissa Benoist, Paul Reiser
Synopsis: An ambitious young drummer butts heads with a tyrannical jazz conductor in his attempt to become a true musical great, uncovering plenty about himself in the process.
Sometimes a film comes along that is so impressive that it defies the usual superlatives. Whiplash, the Oscar-nominated debut feature from writer-director Damien Chazelle, is one of those films. Stripped down to its bare essentials, the film is cinema at its purest and an exhilarating thrill ride through the quest for musical perfection.
Andrew (Miles Teller) is an ambitious young drummer at Schaffer Conservatory in New York. One night, he is discovered practising by infamous conductor Fletcher (JK Simmons), who runs the school’s award-winning jazz band. As Andrew is put through his paces by Fletcher, his relationships with new girlfriend Nicole (Melissa Benoist) and his father (Paul Reiser) are strained to breaking point.
Damien Chazelle succeeds with Whiplash by keeping everything devastatingly simple. The script is lean and free of any of the flab that prominently sticks out like a sore thumb in many Best Picture-nominated dramas. Chazelle’s direction too is unshowy, choosing instead to let the characters take centre stage.
| "There are no two words in the English language more harmful than good job."
Dominating the headlines is JK Simmons, whose performance as the ferocious conductor Fletcher is a real whirlwind. Simmons’ character comes across as the bastard love child of Malcolm Tucker, Sgt Hartman from Full Metal Jacket and the teacher in Glee. He’s an oncoming storm of spittle and expletives, tearing into his desperate young charges with his unblinking eyes.
It’s a wonderful performance of immense control and simplicity. Everything about Fletcher is stripped down, from his way with words to his simple, all-black attire. His simple exterior betrays the complexity within, with Fletcher a man who never makes his true intentions clear. Even the most sincere moment occasionally proves to be a ruse somewhere down the line.
Miles Teller, also, is incredibly impressive as a young man desperate to show his superior what he can do. He’s a guy who wears his heart on his sleeve and his blood on his drumsticks. Just like Foxcatcher, the film is about performative masculinity and the tendency of men to express their feelings through physicality rather than words. Teller’s babyish face and social awkwardness makes him the perfect star at the centre of it all, with his shy exterior giving way to the musical fire within him as Whiplash moves to its conclusion.
| "I tried. I actually fucking tried. And that’s more than most people ever do."
And what a conclusion it is. Every moment of Whiplash pays off in the final musical sequence, which might be the most purely cinematic scene of the last few years. Chazelle brings all of the threads and themes of his story together in one cacophonous blowout that marries sound, visuals and performance perfectly, without more than a few lines of dialogue.
When the screen cuts to black suddenly at the end, the title of the film proves prophetically true. It certainly gave me whiplash.
Pop or Poop?
It’s likely to be lost in the shuffle amongst the other, weightier Best Picture contenders, but Whiplash is a hell of a film and it’s an early contender for the best film of 2015.
JK Simmons and Miles Teller are both sensational in the lead roles, with the former’s closed-off intensity a perfect counterpoint to the brazen emotion of the latter.
This is illustrated perfectly by the insane crescendo of a finale, which might just be the best fifteen minutes of film in the last few years.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.