Review: Whiplash

A warning to the wise: if you are in a jazz-band and your instructor looks like J.K. Simmons and his teaching mentality rivals how Hitler ran Nazi Germany, drop out of the band, save your sanity and see the movie that would have probably predicted your future if you choose to ignore this advice.

Writer and director Damien Chazelle (The Last Exorcism Part II), explores the complex rivalry-relationship between a dedicated musician, played by Miles Teller (Divergent), and a megalomaniac instructor, played by J.K. Simmons (Spider-Man) who are both aspiring to achieve greatness in his feature length directorial debut, Whiplash.

Miles Teller (left) and J.K. Simmons (right) are pushing themselves to the limit in “Whiplash”

The dynamic of the film particularly centers around Teller’s Andrew and Simmons’ Fletcher. Andrew is passionate about drumming and Fletcher is obsessed with leading the best jazz band in the country and both men will stop at nothing to get to that echelon of admiration, even if they have to mutually destroy each other in one manner or another.

What Whiplash is essentially to its core, is a work where every detail of its technical craftsmanship, the cinematography, the editing, the staging, the potent soundtrack, is emphasized to give Chazelle’s intense screenplay, Teller and Simmons’ elite performances every chance to win its audience over and Whiplash succeeds with a great degree of intensity.

As audiences witness Fletcher going off on a student for not keeping up with his tempo or Andrew practically sweating and bleeding like a stuck pig on a hot summer day on the drum set as he practices and plays, it is totally discernible to tell that Chazelle is going the extra mile for this feature and his efforts are totally worth it because Whiplash is so carefully precise in how the narrative of these two men, who are practically two sides of the same coin, unfold. The pacing of how the plot slowly but surely unwinds in a whiplash function, abruptly switching from a bombastic intensity to a sedate form, between these two characters and it is done so that every blow between Andrew and Fletcher can resonate with the audience and there is no sympathy for either character.

Suffice to say that the stars of the show are Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons and writer/director Damien Chazelle. Teller gives a performance that can be described as how Andrew approaches his drumming; he dedicates himself to this role so fiercely and in the end, he is a showstopper and it can be read all over his face and his expressions.

Simmons as Fletcher is essentially a drill sergeant/Hitler figure for this jazz-band and he is practically a lock for an Oscar-nomination. His character is vindictive, tyrannical, merciless and he leaves audiences in awe; he plays this figure so well, it is practically effortless.

Whiplash began as a short feature and Damien Chazelle went to great lengths to expand it into a feature length motion picture and the success of this film should pay off immensely for Chazelle as a writer and director. In fact, after researching the background of the film and its production, it is amazing how this movie is so professionally assembled in such little production time and how much Chazelle put himself into this feature and truly pushing his actors to go to the lengths that they do is remarkable.

Sharone Meir’s cinematography, Tom Cross’ editing, Justin Hurwitz’s score all receive top marks. They are just as much a major influence on this film as the three central stars.

What is disappointing is that even though this film was showcasing the talents of Teller and Simmons, it feels as if the supporting cast including Paul Reiser and Melissa Benoit are rendered as props to help the story along but even though it is disappointing that the supporting cast is featured so little, the movie is basically a boxing match between these similar figures and there is no decisive winner in the end.

This year at the New York Film Festival, Whiplash was the only film that received a standing ovation. It took home the top honors at both the Sundance Film Festival and the Mill Valley Film Festival as well.

Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash is a film that is riding a lot of acclaim and momentum going into the awards season next year and after all that has been said about the film both in the reviews at large and in this review in particular, it is pretty clear to see why it has hoarded so much attention. The drama is so rich, it is almost breathtaking.

Whiplash is without hesitation, one of the year’s most powerful films about mutual destruction and satisfaction. The direction is superb, the writing is piercing and sharp, the acting is authentic and the experience seeing it, is worth it.

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