Director: Damien Chazelle
Writer: Damien Chazelle
Starring: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Melissa Boist, Paul Reiser
Whiplash is a story of musical ambition which doesn’t miss a beat from start to finish, and maintains an exhausting tempo.
Whiplash is the fascinating and electrifying tale of an aspiring jazz drummer (Miles Teller) being pushed to and beyond his limits by a frighteningly intense and unorthodox mentor (J.K. Simmons). It is an exhilarating and artistic piece of film, full of intensity where you might not expect to find it.
The immediate and stand-out strength of this film is its wealth of powerhouse performances. Simmons gives an award-worthy performance as Terence Fletcher, his intensity being utterly magnetic, relentlessly seizing the audience’s focus; he dominates every scene that he is in, scaring even the viewer with his unpredictability and furious energy. Although his screen time is relatively limited this is easily forgotten as he is an invading presence throughout the whole movie. Teller, on the other hand, dominates the film in a different way, his character Andrew Nieman being present in every scene throughout the movie - a fantastic device which allows the audience to follow Nieman’s journey through the film and witness his ambition grow literally minute-by-minute. Whiplash provides Teller with another opportunity to showcase his growing talent, not only as an actor but this time as a musician as well. Teller truly does an astounding job of portraying Nieman’s unrelenting ambition and his struggle at the hands of his castigating mentor, from his ‘single tear’ to his exhausting ‘perfect 400s’.
Whiplash provides a unique stage for Nieman and Fletcher’s tumultuous relationship, both figuratively and literally, resulting in a weirdly intense face-off in its closing scenes. It is simply bizarre, and is unlike anything you will have likely watched before. Chazelle should be commended on both his direction and for his script, which appears to have avoided becoming cliched and melodramatic like many of these types of ‘competitive’ dramas do (no montages here). Rather, Whiplash doesn’t follow any format. Chazelle pits two flawed but likeable characters against each other, leaving us with no enemy to hate, and ends the film pretty much unresolved. Whiplash’s refusal to be predictable is what sets it apart from other competitive dramas and what makes it so compelling to watch.
The cinematography throughout Whiplash compliments the music and the captures the relationship between musician/instrument and conductor/band beautifully; the rocketing camera work during the drum solos perfectly encapsulates the nature of the instrument, visual and audio cues aligned flawlessly, creating an exhaustingly immersive experience. The flitting of focus between Fetcher and Niemann during the closing performance defines the collaborative element and shared understanding between musician and conductor perfectly. The camera’s devotion to the sweaty faces and bloody palms captures the intensity and passion of one trying to perform at their utmost best. It is the extraordinary use of detail and camera speed which makes Whiplash so thrilling.
Whiplash drums up and delivers its thrills artistically and relentlessly, while offering some truly phenomenal performances. It has been filmed as superbly as it has been written and is a treat for the eyes and the ears for the whole duration; Whiplash is simply impossible to switch off.
In one line: A passionate and ambitious tale about passion and ambition, Whiplash is an immersive examination of what it takes to be the best.