Whiplash

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Release: Friday, October 10, 2014 (limited)

[Theater]

Written by: Damien Chazelle 

Directed by: Damien Chazelle

I know that Terence Fletcher wouldn’t give a rat’s you-know-what about any kind of critique of his performance or his teaching methods. So we’ll keep this between us, okay? I don’t want a chair thrown at me, thank you very much.

In this surprisingly emotional and powerful musical drama from Damien Chazzelle, Miles Teller has grand ambitions of becoming one of the world’s elite jazz drummers, and J.K. Simmons’ unforgettable Fletcher has every intention of breaking those dreams into teeny, tiny little pieces. A maestro he may be, but he’s also the kind of authoritarian who prefers breaking the spirits of his pupils (and occasionally the odd instrument or piece of equipment) as opposed to fostering an environment of nurturing. He is made all the more terrifying because there is method to his madness; he knows exactly what he is doing to anyone who dare step foot inside his practice room. Fletcher is a bully who takes pleasure in scaring his students, but he is no anarchist.

One of the great things about Whiplash is the amount of time you’ll spend trying to figure out whether or not he’s a sadist. He wants to push his students to a higher place, but of what does he know about limitations on that front? Given the amount of blood, sweat and tears his players regularly and literally lose during practice, evidently not much. Everyone’s favorite Farmer’s Insurance agent imbues this character with an intensity that almost seems to come out of left field. In addition to bulking up substantially for the role, he draws upon the cumulative strength of an entire career’s worth of emotion and energy. Never before has J. Jonah Jameson seemed like such a harmless and movable object. (R. Lee Ermey’s Sgt. Hartman had better watch his back, too.)

While Simmons’ is the performance that arguably makes the movie, it’s the behavior and conceptualization of one particularly talented and ambitious student that matters more, though that’s not to downplay the younger actor’s performance. What Teller has been able to accomplish here to break from his days of Project X and the like is nothing short of thrilling. (Mostly because of the fact it means I probably won’t have to resort to reviews like these anymore.) Here he’s not exactly lovable but he is leagues more defined as an individual rather than the booty-chasing cretins he’s portrayed up until now. The fact Teller has grown up playing drums certainly lends itself to his most matured outing to date.

The driving beat of this thriller-esque drama — yeah, jazz drumming and adrenaline rushes, whodathunkit? —  picks up notably after the pair’s first encounter. The film opens with Andrew, isolated, practicing meticulously on a small kit in a room at the end of a deserted hallway. The harsh clashing of drumsticks against the toms reverberates methodically and certainly rhythmically as well, but there’s more aggression and urgency presented before we even see anyone on screen. He’s interrupted briefly by a fairly imposing-looking dude with a jet black shirt and a perfectly bald head. The man demands to see what the kid can do, and after a few seconds of appearing moderately entertained he just as abruptly exits, leaving the exhausted Andrew to wonder what that had all meant. For a fleeting moment at least, we are Andrew. We have to think this will not be the last time we see this man.

This teasing is not the subtlest way of introducing tension, but for Whiplash‘s purposes it works, since the last thing the film wants to give the impression of being is passive. Indeed, this is a film that will not submit itself to audience expectation; if anything it is the other way around, and we must submit ourselves to the whim of the terrifying and brutal jazz conductor who demands absolute perfection of his students. And we must submit ourselves to Andrew’s unwavering devotion to become more than what he currently is, even if that is a perfectly acceptable human being who may be a bit stubborn at times.

On the merits of committed performances, Whiplash earns a passing grade. Better than that, it’d easily earn (okay, maybe not easily) the approval of the world’s toughest jazz instructor. There’s no way J.K. Simmons can’t look back on what he’s laid down here as one of the proudest moments of his career. It is a little anticlimactic, then, coming to realize at the end that we could have seen this scenario play out this way from the beginning. It’s not a predictable screenplay as much as it is a walk through familiar hallways, a more emphatic way of cautioning the difference between self-improvement and self-destruction.

All the same, Whiplash‘s ability to sock the viewer in the gut with two riveting performances is more than enough to warrant a recommendation.

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4-0Recommendation: The biggest draw for this film hands down is the performances. If you have been a fan of either Mr. Simmons or Mr. Teller for some time, you have absolutely no excuse to put this one off. But if it’s music you are into, you are equally responsible for your own sense of having missed out if you don’t check this one out and pronto, as it probably won’t hang out in theaters for long. Narratively, this is not the most creative thing out there, but this is an acting showcase. And what a beautiful one at that.

Rated: R

Running Time: 106 mins.

Quoted: “There are no two words in the English language more harmful than ‘good job.'”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

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38 thoughts on “Whiplash

  1. Pingback: The 2014 DigiBread Awards | digitalshortbread

    • For sure man, it’s not easy having to pick and choose! My indie theater makes it especially hard b/c it’s got all these titles I definitely want to see. Funny enough, I just saw this on a whim. Didn’t know anything about it. Was virtually blown away

  2. The concept isn’t appealing at all..but the praise that I keep hearing makes this a must-see. People keep raving about the last 20 minutes and I cannot wait to witness them with my own eyes. Too bad this isn’t playing anywhere nearby yet!!!

    • Dude the last 20 minutes of this are blisteringly awesome. I am not that into jazz and like you say, the concept of this isn’t original. Or it may just not appeal. But on the grounds of acting alone, I would have to recommend checking this one out in any way you can buddy. It’s got me. . . .jazzed. . . .for J.K. Simmons once again.

    • Absolutely. Whiplash was extremely well-written and realized. Although I will have to say the dinner scene faded from my mind fairly quickly, but that observations you make only adds more fuel to this fire. Some of the things Fletcher said to his students….. wow. He was brutal!

  3. great review mate! Just stumbled across your blog, really nice looking site you have here. I’m glad you seemed to have enjoyed Whiplash as much as I – it was the first perfect score I have ever given! It was flawless! Tho I am biased, I’m a drummer ;P

    • Hey, awesome. Great to meet ya, thanks for stopping in and leaving a comment. 🙂

      Yeah, I loved this movie. I really did. Wasn’t the most original bit of film but it is made exhilarating and extremely watchable with J.K. Simmons and Miles Teller battling it out for who can be the craziest character. Lol

      You being a drummer must have made this a much more worthwhile experience.

      • No worries mate! There is a lot of diverse stuff and entertaining reading here.

        Yeah being a drummer made this pretty much THE film for me. Everything Miles’ character went through was so appropriate, it felt very familiar to me. The drive to be the best. For me though, my Terrence Fletcher is in my own head ;P

        And that the final act, I’m with you all the way. The crowd I was with starting applauding before the credits started rolling!

        Plus you gotta love JK morphing in Vern Shillinger for one last time. I think he won the battle of the crazy! Though it was a close race!

    • Seven big old slices of DSB love man, it’s deserving of it. In fact, I struggled mightily between the 7 and the perfect pie, but Whiplash’s teetering on the verge of total predictability had me retract the gushing score. All the same, this is a great one man. I do hope you get to see it at some point. 🙂

    • 😀 Haha, I am going to start stealing Ipes’ thunder by claiming that name. I’m. . .I’m not sure what will happen next if he finds out. . .

      Good thing he’s always blowing off my blog 😉

      If you are a fan of Simmons in the *slightest*, please, please check this out. The man lays down just a killer performance. So does Teller. This movie really impresses. Esp if you consider the fact it might still make a jazz listener out of me yet

  4. I was blown away by this movie, but in a 12 Years a Slave kind of way. What I mean to say is that I really, REALLY liked it, but I have NO desire to see it again. The performances are great, and along with the music, are the big selling points for the film. I don’t imagine it will be in theaters long as it isn’t your typical mainstream film. I do have high hopes for it at awards season though! Good review, Tom!

    • Yeah, I can understand not wanting to go through it again. To be perfectly honest I was a little intimidated by what J.K. Simmons was going to bring to the table, and sure enough. . . he. . .was. . . brutal! Lol. Definitely good comparison to describe your experience with it, I was able to appreciate 12 Years a Slave for what it was, but I have no desire at all to sit through it ever again.

      I hope this does do well at the awards this year. I want Simmons to at least get the nomination for Supporting Actor. He’s stellar.

      • I almost have a hard time not seeing Simmons getting recognized for his work in this. I wouldn’t mind Teller getting some attention, too, but I doubt that will happen. At least he is starting to take on some newer roles that stray from his typical YA-adaptation films.

      • Yes indeedy! What Miles has been doing lately is making me forget all about his old trash. Haha. Of course, some people probably love him in things like 21 & Over and Project X, but meh. . . I’m not one of ’em. 😉

        Yeah, I really do hope there’s justice in this world and Simmons at least garners a nom.

    • See that’s the brilliant thing about this production man. It is heavy on the music, but it’s ultimately as much about jazz here as Black Swan was about ballet. Both films intensify greatly in terms of the psychology of the characters, so once you get locked into that head space, anything that these characters could be doing pretty much would be interesting enough. Miles Teller could be farting the star spangled banner and as long as his acting was still as good, I’d be captivated.

      Thanks so much Mikey. Good to see you again. 🙂

    • Cheers my friend! Whiplash is pretty kickass man! I seriously have been listening to some good jazz music since. And I previously didn’t really like jazz at all. (Subliminal messages, man, I tell ya. Terence Fletcher got in my head!!!!) 😉

  5. Stoked for this, Tom. Glad you enjoyed it. Simmons looks like he is flexing those acting chops of his. Hope to catch this soon. Great review, Tom. Once again, you impress me with your command of words to describe your honest feelings about a movie. Thanks!

    • You are much too kind Vic, I appreciate you dropping back in again here at DSB. Always looking to serve people the reviews I feel describe the movie the best! I think it’s easier to do when the movies I see are so darn good. Esp. at this time of year. 🙂

    • Neither do I man, that’s pretty much where I was at during this film. Surprised that I was digging so much of the music being laid down as I rarely, if ever, listen to jazz. But this stuff was great and was certainly elevated by top-notch performances. Thanks so much man. I am glad you have gotten to see it, too, because I’m hearing this one hasn’t got the most impressive release at all.

  6. Have you seen “Rabbit Hole?” That’s where I first noticed Teller, and he’s fantastic in it. I’ve been waiting 4 years now for him to finally deliver another performance that lives up to that potential. (I don’t count “The Spectacular Now.”)

    • I thought he was damn impressive in The Spectacular Now. But he’s better here for sure.

      I have not seen Rabbit Hole, but many thanks for bringing that to my attention Marshall! I’ll add it to my ridiculously huge queue. 🙂

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