Thursday, 19 February 2015

Film Review: Whiplash



"Parker! Get me pictures of Buddy Rich!" (that's a drumming joke - ba dum tish!)

Whiplash is a Best Picture-nominated drama about Andrew (Miles Teller), a gifted drummer who enrols at a prestigious music school in New York. It's here that he encounters Terence Fletcher (JK Simmons), a fearsome conductor who terrorises his students and always strives for the best.

When I first saw the trailer for Whiplash several months ago, I snickered to myself - a film about jazz drumming? Really? What's next, high school harp lessons?

Thankfully, I couldn't have been more wrong - not only does Whiplash succeed in making jazz an interesting and rich topic, it extracts two of 2014's best performances through its brilliantly written screenplay.

You see, Whiplash transcends it's simple 'music film' premise. It's not entertaining, nor is it funny or uplifting. It's deeply psychological as it plays with themes of motivation, aspiration and passion. This isn't music, it's war - Andrew and Fletcher are locked in battle, both psychologically and sometimes physically, as they negotiate what it means to be truly great at what they do.

Whiplash is the kind of film where you reach the end of a scene and realise you haven't taken in air for a helluva long time - it reaches out and grabs you by the throat, holding your breath and squeezing out every last drop. And that's just within the first 20 minutes.

At the centre of this whirlwind is JK Simmons as Terence Fletcher, an uncompromising music coach at one of New York's most prestigious music schools. Simply put, Fletcher is an absolute maniac and makes someone like J. Jonah Jameson look like Dora the Explorer. He cares so deeply about his music that he will literally push his students to the brink of mental breakdown to achieve perfection (if such a thing exists). For Fletcher, the only way to bring the full extent of someone's talent to the surface is unrelenting verbal assault - as he himself puts it, "There are no two words in the English language more harmful than good job."

In Whiplash, Simmons has an on-screen presence unlike anything you've ever seen - his performance is so powerful and impactful that it resonates across every scene, even those for which he isn't present. Every line of dialogue has pitch-perfect (pun intended) delivery, but it's the quieter moments where Simmons pours meaning into a subtle hand or eye movement that reveal the depth of his acting ability.

On top of this, Miles Teller serves up a career-defining performance that proves he has so much more to give that YA mediocrity (Divergent) and teary-eyed coming-of-age drama (The Spectacular Now). It's tough watching Andrew struggle to cope with Fletcher's methods, and the audience really feels for him. One scene where Fletcher berates Andrew in front of the entire class is powerful stuff, and Teller upholds his side of the deal - he's heartbreaking and electrifying, as Andrew is torn between floods of tears and zeal for the drums.

Whiplash doesn't just excel in terms of acting talent - it's also impressive on a technical level. Things like the way in which the film is edited and composed really jumped out at me, simply because the whole film is so gorgeous to look at. The final crescendo where everything comes to a head between Andrew and Fletcher is a pulsating scene where the camera darts back and forth with metronomic accuracy. Director Damien Chazelle doesn't shy away from getting up close and personal with his actors to extract every drop of determination and anguish on their face.

It's only when things come crashing to halt and the credits roll that the audience are given chance to draw breath and reflect on what just played out. That my first thought was nothing more than "Wow" should be all you need to know.

The Verdict: 9.5/10


Whiplash is a taut, emotionally-draining and utterly captivating film that will leave you breathless, thanks in part to two outstanding central performances from Simmons and Teller. JK is a force to be reckoned with whilst Teller pours his heart and soul into each drum beat. The direction and editing serve to enhance the arresting narrative whilst that rousing finale will play over and over in your head long after the credits roll.

6 comments:

  1. Excellent review! Words cannot describe how much I loved this film. I don't buy films on DVD very often anymore, but I will definitely be buying this.

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    1. Thanks Brittani! Yep, same - it's the kind of film you have to recommend to everyone you talk to.

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  2. I can't wait to see this. Great review. I too snickered when I first saw the trailer, but all the buzz, hype and accolades have proven that my initial assumption is off!

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    1. It's seriously awesome mate, you'll love it!

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  3. Great review! This is probably my favorite one of the Oscar nominated picks. I wish it would get recognized for more than Simmons (who was amazing!) but it's great to see it get recognized nonetheless. :)

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    1. Thanks Katy! :) It's one of my favourites too, along with Birdman and Imitation Game.

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