Starring Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Melissa Benoist & Paul Reiser
Ambition, dedication, determination. How far will people go to achieve their ultimate passion in life? It’s a question raised in many films but in such a conventional manner that one just tends to forget about it and concentrate on the other aspects. When it’s made the main focus though, that’s when the true verification is present. Sometimes something as simple as drive or ambition can prove to be just as intense as the use of violence or action in a film. Whiplash is a great example as to why.
Andrew Neyman (Teller) is a promising young Jazz drummer who enrolls himself into a competitive music school because according to him it’s the best one in the world and he wants to be the best Jazz drummer that ever lived. He also wants to impress tough-to-please music instructor Fletcher (Simmons) who initially inspires Andrew but pushes his students to the limit to reach their full potential.
When one thinks of Jazz films, Mo’ Better Blues, Round Midnight and Paris Blues come to mind. It’s a very niche subject matter in film that is hardly explored, if only as a sub-plot without much focus. Writer and director Damien Chazelle however, has made the otherwise particular subject matter accessible whilst impressing his core audience of Jazz fans. Whereas most other films that deal with music usually make the music a character, Whiplash remembers to make the characters just as important and not be overshadowed by the subject matter but drive the true intentions of the characters forward.
J.K. Simmons is a another great example of why viewers can have so much fun watching villainous characters chew up the screen and smiling while they do it. To say Fletcher has a mean streak is an understatement; this man resembles and personifies evil itself. Fletcher is relentless when providing harsh comments, his intimidating gestures occur when others are at their most vulnerable emotional states. One predicts a moment of forgiveness and then Simmons devours every notion of potential hope with a smug smile, and delivers an onslaught of offensive comments perfectly. It’s challenging not to relish every abusive moment.
Teller is usually on the receiving end of Fletcher’s abuse and reacts in a relatable ‘coming-of-rage’ fashion, portraying small tics and mannerisms of that of a seasoned vet. From his timid walk to wandering eyes and shy movements, Teller fully embodies the character of Andrew whilst shaping his performance differently when it comes to the musical moments showing that Andrew may be self-conscious and sheepish in life but his confidence lies in his talent.
In one of the main infamous scenes, Neyman attempts what initially seems a straight-forward drum pattern to the dismay of an increasingly irritated Fletcher. What feels awkward and uncomfortable at first swiftly becomes a frightening and chilling scene, matching the ferocity of the Russian roulette scene in the The Deer Hunter as both Teller and Simmons capture the same intensity as Walken and De Niro did evoking similar emotions of fear and unpredictability. Chazelle does a great job of shooting close-ups of sweat and tense facial expressions mirroring more of a boxing film rather than a musical, as we witness the emotional bruises on the characters and the everlasting effect it has on them. All of this adds up to one of the best films of the year, with exceptional performances showcasing the talents of Simmons, Teller and Chazelle.