Every year in the build up to awards season there always seems to be the sleeper. The film that was made for a modest budget, made under seemingly independent circumstances (though distributed by a major studio), directed by a relative unknown and starring non-A-listers. This years diamond in the rough was Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash. Buzz started early last year with screenings at Sundance, as time went on good word spread like wildfire, release couldn’t come soon enough.
Miles Teller plays Andrew a jazz drumming prodigy who is plucked from his class to join the big leagues of conductor Fletcher (J.K. Simmons – in an Oscar winning role). Andrew’s euphoric happiness soon turns to dread as Fletcher reveals himself to be not only an exacting tutor but a domineering tyrant who terrifies all of his students. Andrew struggles not only to cope under Fletcher’s rule but his own perfectionism which drives him to extreme acts in order to prove to himself and his master that he has what it takes.
Right off the bat it should be said that Whiplash is fully deserving of all the write-ups and accolades it has garnered. It is a deceptively simple story about two mens uncompromising drive to be the best at what they do and they will scorch the Earth to achieve perfection. In a twist on the old story of the young man fighting to remain pure in the face of evil Andrew begins the film already tainted. Seemingly naive it becomes quickly apparent that he is willing to cheat and co-erce to get what he wants. Although quieter than Fletcher he is just as twisted. Teller’s performance is one of the strongest yet underplayed parts in a while. Just the raise of the eyebrows registers terror or pleasure. Simmon’s too turns in a masterful performance. Fletcher as a character is relatively one dimensional, even going so far to state his mission statement of trying to find the new Charlie Parker (the musician whose brilliance was born from being pushed by his teacher). The subtleties Simmons brings to the role though create a fully rounded entity. You’ll come away remember the Full Metal Jacket style rants but the real joy is seeing his face when he’s fully immersed in the music he conducts, the finale in particular will linger.
Chazelle’s passion for jazz is clear throughout right down to the editing. Split second cuttaways of drumstick on skin, bloodied blisters, fingers on piano keys, spit valves being opened, the music sequences play with veracity of any metal video. The film is bathed in Godfather-like love for browns and oranges imbuing the film with the feel of 1970’s finest cinema, on the commentary Chazelle comments how he wanted the climax of the film to emulate how the classic 70’s films ended. Like those older masterpieces the film keeps things lean. The story is straight, there’s nothing in the way of superfluous characters or scenes which could have been trimmed. It’s a direct shot of well written, well acted drama which goes to show a lot of high concept tentpole movies that sometimes all you need is a good story and good acting.
Whiplash is close to a masterpiece, certainly an improvement on the over0-indulged Birdman. A story of warring student and teacher in the world of Jazz, who would have thought that could make one of the best films of the year? In fact it’s better. Whiplash is one of the best films of the decade.
- Commentary with Writer/Director Damien Chazelle and J.K. Simmons
- An Evening at the Toronto International Film Festival with Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons and Damien Chazelle
- Timekeepers – Famous drummers discuss their craft and passion for drumming
- Whiplash Original Short Film with Optional Commentary
- Deleted Scene with Optional Commentary
Dir: Damien Chazelle
Scr: Damien Chazelle
Starring: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Paul Reiser, Melissa Benosit
Prd: Jason Blum, Helen Estabrook, David Lancaster, Michael Litvak
DOP: Sharone Meir
Music: John Hurwitz
Run time: 107 mins
Whiplash is available on Blu-Ray and DVD now via Sony Pictures Home Entertainment