If Whiplash were a jazz album, it would be less Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue and more Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew. Wear some deodorant beforehand, this is an intense ride and I guarantee you’ll be sweating by the ending. This is a film of pure energy, it starts by beating quietly at a slow, even pace but by the end it’s a hellish, freakish jam session of epic proportions for director Damien Chazelle and his two lead actors.
The first thing you may realize going in is that our hero Andrew (Miles Teller) is already a fantastic drummer when he enters into Shaffer University, the best music school in the country. He spends all of his nights working on his techniques and he goes out of his way to listen to all the great jazz artists like Buddy Rich and Charlie Parker. From the beginning, he sounds like someone who has a high chance of making it big because he has true, genuine talent. The only real times he isn’t practicing are when he is spending time watching movies with his dad and making small talk with his girlfriend at the concession stand. The only problem is that there is no time in history that has had more people wanting to become an artist in all these different things. Everyday people attempt to turn their passion into a career and very few manage to make it. For as great as he is, Andrew is still put into the corner at school and his family seems to not really appreciate the thing he is trying to do. Much like a lot people, Andrew is at risk of finding a normal job and letting his dreams gather dust.
Enter Terrance Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), an infamous conductor at the school. He is known for his unconventional, often disturbing teaching methods which can drive students to either there last straw or to their moment of pure perfection in their craft. Late one night in the halls of the school, Fletcher hears Andrew’s practicing and can hear his anger and frustration. You can see in those opening moments that he sees potential to morph Andrew into something that is not only great but legendary.
Whiplash next to Boyhood is one of the most relatable films I’ve seen this year. Chazelle with help from Teller’s gripping performance makes Andrew someone who is down to earth and human despite all the crazy stuff that happens to him. As you can probably tell, I love everything film related and I adore writing about this subject. I am trying as hard as I can in between doing high school to eventually become someone who can find a career doing the thing that is my passion. Andrew’s fears here happen to be my hugest fear right now. What if I’m not good enough? What if I’m blown away by the rest of the talented writers trying to make it? Would it be better to cut my losses if and just give up? Whiplash goes very deep into ideas that have made every person who has ever had ambition extremely nervous. You can try as hard as you can and you can still not make it in our competitive world. Fletcher makes him bleed, he uses his darkest moments to psychologically torture him, he humiliates him in front of everybody and he leads Andrew to the brink of sanity. Yet time and time again, Andrew keeps coming back. He’ll wash the blood off his hands and he’ll study every second to make sure he can reach perfection. Later on, he’ll even break up with his girlfriend and choose the acceptance of his mentor over that of his father. In Fletcher, Andrew has been given the thing that will drive him to be his best regardless of mental and emotional state.
It helps how three dimensional the character of Fletcher is. Going in, you could be expecting some bully caricature, a shallow, evil douchebag who Andrew will eventually overcome like Principal Rooney in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off or John Kreese in The Karate Kid. From a story standpoint, Fletcher may look like an antagonist, there are points where it almost seems as though he is trying to destroy Andrew by the things he is putting him through and making him do. However, you’ll also find that there are points where Fletcher shows a more vulnerable side that hints that there is a method to his madness. He seems to be sincerely invested in getting Andrew to achieve his very best and he’s willing to acknowledge when Andrew does do something right. Half way through, there’s a scene where he cries over the death of one of his top students, you can see that he secretly is rooting for all of pupils to break through and he has a huge respect for those who have made it. In what is his most transparent scene, he explains to Andrew that the worst phrase in the English dictionary is good job. You want to punch him and you want to tell yourself that there’s a better way than this but at the end of the day, he’s the kind of person you want respect from. The relationship between Andrew and Fletcher is a perfect representation for the dark truth of what it will take to make art or pretty much anything that you have a passion for.
Damien Chazelle is another name in a list of fantastic debut directors from this 2014. There hasn’t been a more intensely made movie to come out of this year. I’m not kidding when I said earlier that this will make you sweat. Chazelle shoots very up close in a lot of scenes and you feel right there with them as they practice the music.
The real technical breakthrough of Whiplash comes in the perfect editing by Tom Cross. Spectacular doesn’t even begin to describe the exhilarating work Cross does here. Every part of Whiplash is paced at exactly the right time and he keeps you on this bumpless, exhilarating experience from point A to point B. When you’re doing a movie with this kind of concept, you need to make sure the audience is as on the edge of their seats as far you can possibly get them before they fall off. The way it cuts specific shots with the music is so good, you’re never given time to be bored.
Not to spoil anything but the last 15 minutes of the movie is the most well directed scene for a movie this entire year. The way he shows this band performing at the end as he cuts between the faces of Andrew and Fletcher is a stroke of genius. The only way you couldn’t enjoy it is if you had a heart attack while watching.
What hasn’t been said about J.K. Simmons and Miles Teller? They both give in two unforgettable performances and there isn’t a bad note in either role. Miles Teller delivers his most powerful, raw performance to date and it’s possibly even worthy of an Oscar nomination. J.K. Simmons dominates every moment he’s on screen. He’ll make you laugh and be terrified and you definitely won’t soon forget the balls to the wall energy he has brought on screen. The parts where they go back and forth in the dialogue are like being on a roller coaster and Chazelle really struck gold here in picking out such passionate and emotional actors as Simmons and Teller.
It’s impossible for Whiplash to not be left without some level of feelings afterwards. Every single beat from the time the movie starts to when it ends is filled with deafening levels of emotion, power and force. Amazing performances, direction and writing come together to tell the story of the often grotesque challenges and sacrifices you’ll face to be the person you dream of. Whether you like it or not, this is the work that it takes to be the best and I have no doubt you’ll leave the theater pondering what it is that can drive you to your furthest extremes.
Release Date: 4/4/2014
Cast: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Melissa Benoist
Directed by: Damien Chazelle
Screenplay by: Damien Chazelle