A few months ago I tweeted a prediction for the upcoming film, Whiplash.
“#Whiplash…Full Metal Jacket for musicians.’
After seeing the film yesterday, boy was I right! Whiplash is a marathon of a movie, demanding as much stamina from its audience as from its characters, “rushing” and “dragging” the viewer through exhilarating sequences of endurance.
We meet Andrew (the impressive Miles Teller), an aspiring jazz drummer and first-year student at the prestigious Schaffer Conservatory in New York. A chance encounter with Terrance Fletcher, a snarling, terrifying and vitriolic jazz band conductor played with brutish physicality by J.K. Simmons, Andrew is enlisted into the music school’s competition jazz orchestra. With the menace and discipline of a drill sergeant, Fletcher rules the practice room with an iron fist, repeating the oft-told story of Charlie Parker being hurled with a cymbal- a mantra which excuses his bullying behaviour in the search for musical perfection.
From the very first band session, Andrew is thrown into the firing line, coming face to face with Fletcher’s verbal sadism. Intimidating and shocking, Fletcher employs whatever is necessary to get the best out of his band. Simmons excels, a human fireball scorching wherever his dangerous gaze lands or whatever his pitch-perfect ear for jazz hears. Driven to the edge, Andrew assimilates the rage of the band room into his playing, drumming all hours of the day and leaving the distraction of human relationships behind. Teller is wondrous: his eyes darkening; his baby-face hardening as he becomes closer and closer to his goal: to be the greatest.
The third star of the film is undoubtedly the music. Usually derided, the jazz (including the titular ‘Whiplash’) is quick with vitality and accomplishment, expressive with passion yet deceptive in its rigidity. To many, jazz is without structure or purpose, but the thumping beat of Teller’s drumming volumizes the discipline and musicianship- and the blood, sweat and tears that can go into even the most languid of pieces. Scenes in which Andrew continues to drum, even as his hands are red with blood are stomach-churning to watch: the musician movie equivalent of Rocky getting back up again.
Embellished from a short film made by the director, Damien Chazelle, Whiplash is a snappy, spiky and ultimately scary story about the search for excellence and those who will go the furthest to reach it. J.K. Simmons is glory-bound with his villainous portrayal of an ‘ends justify the means’ mentality whilst Miles Teller’s transformation as an innocent protégé into a recklessly ambitious recluse deserves equal praise. The last fifteen minutes is a crazy, rip-roaring ride of unspoken emotion played through music which will leave you wobbly-kneed in its conclusion.