Bombastic, brutal, brilliant.
I must admit that the plot line for Whiplash alone wouldn't have been enough to convince me to see it. It's about a young, wannabe Jazz musician named Andrew (Miles Teller) at a prestigious music school in New York, his journey to "make it", and an abrasive music teacher named Fletcher (J.K Simmons) with extremely unorthodox teaching methods. Seeing as I don't really have a passion for jazz, my initial reaction was basically, "meh". Thankfully, I'd heard whispers that it was a "must see" and then the tone of the trailer reinforced my decision to attend the gala premiere screening at this years London Film Festival. I'm so glad I did. Whiplash is stupendous!
From the opening scene which shows the first meeting of Andrew and Fletcher I knew I was going to love Whiplash. The slow zoom down a lengthy corridor, the lingering atmospheric close ups, the murky lighting, the impactful pauses and the sharp, witty dialogue. This was clearly the work of a skilled craftsman. It was a style that continued throughout the film with every bead of sweat, every drop of blood, every strained sinew emphasised in dramatic fashion with equally emotive jazz music blasting out from the speakers, rattling the ear drums. It's a movie that teases and evokes your senses. In this (and many other respects) it reminded me of Darren Aronofsky's viscerally brilliant Black Swan. Both are films of immense force and passion that, if allowed, will absorb you and leave you drained and dizzy.
I wasn't that familiar with Miles Teller as I haven't seen his previous movies (Divergent and 21 & Over being the most well known), but I was impressed with his performance as Andrew. He played the outsider, driven to be one of the greats, perfectly and I'm sure a long and lustrous career lies ahead for him. For me though, the star of the show was J.K Simmons as the explosive, unpredictable music teacher, Fletcher. Simmons mentioned at the post screening Q&A that the role of Fletcher was every actors dream and it was clear to see he revelled in the roll. He adds an electricity to every scene he's in through sheer force of presence. From start to finish you never quite know if he's a madman, an inspirational teacher striving to help his pupils achieve greatness or just a complete and utter bastard. Imagine a cross between Mr Holland (from Mr. Holland's Opus) and the drill instructor from a Full Metal Jacket and you won't be too wide of the mark. I was also mightily impressed with the masterful direction from Damien Chazelle. It's clear too that Chazelle is passionate about jazz music and is using his own personal experiences as an inspiration for much of the film. I await his next film with great anticipation.
The Final Verdict
The best thing about Whiplash...
A phenomenally exhilarating and rousing film, masterfully written and directed, but there can be no doubt that the star that shines brightest of all is J.K Simmons. Surely an Oscar for best supporting actor awaits.
The worst thing about Whiplash...
I can't think of a single thing!
You'll like this if you liked...
Black Swan is the obvious choice. Fans of music (especially jazz should also adore the movie). That said, I wasn't really much of a fan of jazz before the screening. Now I'd quite like to become a jazz drummer. Overall
Breathtaking, exhilarating and emotive stuff! Whiplash is a film that drags you along on a ride and manipulates your senses. Such is the sheer brute force of the movie, at times it seems closer in DNA to a rousing sporting film such as Rocky, than those about musicians. I couldn't get it out of my head on leaving the theatre. It makes you want to be great and it might just be my favourite film of the year. It's also the only film I've ever been to see in the cinema that received a standing ovation at it's crescendo! Staggering.
9.5 out of 10
Check out the trailer below: