Whiplash tells the story of Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller), a drummer who enrolls in the prestigious Schaffer jazz school in New York with the ambition of becoming one of the greats. Yet nothing is simple or straightforward for him when he is met with the volatile and unpredictable teacher and band conductor Terence Fletcher (played by J.K Simmons). His volatile nature makes Simmon’s J Jonah Jameson seem mild mannered. When given the chance by Fletcher to play as part of the top band in the school Neyman finds himself amongst musicians so cutthroat that they rival the Lannisters. The story fires forward from there with incredible emotional intensity that you’ll find yourself hooked whether you like it or not.
The film, written and directed by Damien Chazelle, boasts a medley of terrific aspects from the intensity of the acting, beautifully shot band scenes and catchy jazz tunes to boot. Chazelle delivers an exceptional and emotional film that speaks to the lengths we will go to for our dreams. Despite focusing on the drive of a musician to achieve his dream, it is easy to connect and understand the struggles of Neyman. You may not have played a musical note in your life but you’ll find it hard not to identify with him. We’ve all butted heads with a teacher or mentor at some point that left a lasting impression, but what Neyman encounters under the tutelage of Fletcher is as compelling as it is unnerving.
An unorthodox and captivating relationship develops between Neyman and Fletcher, who pushes the prodigy drummer past all his limits to the point where blood, sweat and tears are a normal day after each repeatedly spatters the drum kit. Neyman strains under the ferocity of Fletcher’s teaching, pushing through harsh and pretty abusive tactics. Whether its chairs or swears that are thrown, either are delivered unpredictably and with such power that I found myself as shocked as characters onscreen. Fletcher challenges the young drummer at every turn to be the best. Simmons’s acting is varied from tearful monologues, to strings of colorful abuse and pure ferocity in a stare, all of which are performed without blemish.
We are shown all sides of a character that terrifies his students (and the audience). While at times treating his students fairly brutally, Fletcher is far more than just the boogey man teacher that students dread. The real triumph of Chazelle’s writing and Simmons’s acting is that by the film’s end, the audience can understand Fletcher to a degree, probably not agree or support him, but understand the character. Teller’s performance is equally as well rounded, delivering bouts of untamed, passionate rage as he practices or anxious and awkward when finally chalking up the nerve to date. Despite being a rather normal teen, Neyman doesn’t have many friends and we see why as he ends up putting music before anything else. Neyman lets friends and family slide throughout the film, to the point where he alienates family members and treats other drummers in the school with utter disdain. The downside to his passion and ambitions become apparent. We see pretentiousness and arrogance grow alongside his drive and at times its hard to even acclaim him. Theres hardly a hitch in any performance throughout the movie. These characters have a brilliant combination of great writing and great acting behind them, they’re hard to forget and by the films end, you’ll wonder whether you actually like them.
The cinematography is fantastic and subtle at times. Camerawork often follows the music and packs punchy deliveries to match the accents played. Whether on a sidewalk or performance, the clever combination of the soundtrack and cinematography are a sight to behold and aid the tone immensely. The camerawork helps craft the intimate emotional connection between the young drummer and audience seamlessly. Tight and controlled shots of Neyman’s distress and Fletcher’s outbursts make it impossible for the audience to stay detached. As well as this, there are several shots so powerful that they crystallize the strain and dedication of Neyman in a matter of seconds. A certain ice bucket will have your eyes fixated to the screen.
Whiplash’s runtime fits the narrative just right as every scene is made to count and the only times things slow down is when Neyman can, and even then, the pace is changed but hardly slowed. The few subplots through the film eventually fade away. We see just how dedicated the young drummer is to his dream when he gives up a relationship he once sought, but now only sees it as an obstacle to what he wants to achieve. Any time that Neyman isn’t with a drum kit, he’s certainly thinking about it or talking about it. The screentime of his family and girlfriend shrink as the story progresses, mirroring Neyman’s growing focus on his music and the little time he devotes to all else. At times even forgetting his own safety and rational thought.
Whiplash is one of the few films I can point to that seems to have not a single fault. Its engaging, inspiring and will keep you gripped from start to finish. It’s an exceptional piece of film that stands tall during award season. Whiplash is worth every cent of the ticket price and a journey you won’t forget.
An exceptional piece of film that should stand tall during award season. 10/10