Whiplash (Miles Teller/JK Simmons) - Review
Review by Rob Carnevale
WHIPLASH may take its early cues from several well established movie genres but by subverting them in such thrilling fashion it dances to a different beat entirely.
Written and directed by Damien Chazelle and partly inspired by his own experiences as a jazz drummer in high school, the film offers up a breathless battle of wills that inspire a whirlwind of emotions before leaving you on an exhilarated high.
The story follows ambitious young jazz drummer Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller) as he bids to become “one of the greats” by first impressing his hardline teacher Terence Fletcher (JK Simmons) into giving him a shot.
Far from being a conventional motivator, however, Fletcher is a borderline sadistic tutor who believes in pushing his students to breaking point and beyond in his own insatiable quest to unearth the new Charlie Parker. Both Fletcher and Neyman will subsequently test each other’s limits.
The ensuing film, breathlessly directed by Chazelle, is a tour-de-force that defies easy stereotyping.
Where most films of this nature might set Fletcher up as unconventional but ultimately inspirational, Whiplash poses legitimate questions over teaching methods and the use of fear as a tool, thereby turning Fletcher into something more complex – part-monster, part-genius whose unscrupulous methods are wholly unpredictable.
By doing so, the director also creates a genuine tension that drives the film like an action thriller; the question of whether Neyman will or won’t succeed or be broken being kept alive right up until the very end.
It also gifts Simmons with the role of a lifetime, his Fletcher an enigmatic presence: someone to genuinely fear even when delivering laugh-out-loud lines that are designed to belittle and deflate. And yet, there is a humanity to him, too… barely visible yet hidden away beneath the surface. He genuinely believes his methods are right.
Teller, too, rises to Simmons’ challenge, turning in a career-best, fortune-changing performance as Neyman that is as overtly physical (he looks like he gave blood, sweat and tears) as it is emotionally grounded and compelling.
Together, Teller and Simmons are a force to be reckoned with and early Oscar buzz is richly deserved.
Chazelle, too, proves himself to be an astute writer and director: his script is adept at dropping explosive one-liners but it is also fiercely intelligent in the way that it poses questions while also serving up characters who are worth hanging out with. His direction, meanwhile, is pretty much pace- perfect in the way that it hits all the right beats yet is savvy enough and confident enough to toss in some curve-balls.
Hence, from its brilliantly realised opening scene to its sensational climax, Whiplash is a crowd-pleaser of the highest order that is well worth beating your own drum about afterwards.
Running time: 104mins
UK Release Date: January 16, 2015