Take ‘Dead Poets Society’. Flip it on its head. Add music. ‘Whiplash’ is born.
This, of course, is far too simplistic, but it gives audiences a rough idea of what to go in expecting, perhaps no more so than when considering J.K. Simmons’ Terence Fletcher, whose words of… ‘encouragement’ (saying to a band member “that is not your boyfriend’s dick, do not come early”) stray far from anything Professor Keating conveyed in DPS.
Instead, ‘Whiplash’ provides an incredibly intense study into what form of mentorship pays maximum dividends, and it’s undeniably the journey that’s the most enthralling, rather than the end result. This is not, of course, to say the ending is underwhelming, as it is in fact one of the best endings I have seen from a movie in 2014… but it’s the psychological warfare between actors Simmons and Miles Teller that offers the tensest stretches of the film, a testament to Director Damien Chazelle, who seamlessly merges camera cuts with rhythm shifts within the film to make jazz compositions nerve racking, a remarkable feat considering the often laid back feel of this music genre.
It’s indeed quite surprising that no film in 2014 had me teetering on the edge of my seat more frequently than ‘Whiplash’, a film that, for all intensive purposes, is centred around jazz music. Instead, the film balances the genre tightrope effortlessly, some parts astonishingly thrilling, while others are undoubtedly inspirational.
Having said that, one of the film’s major motifs being music means that, on some occasions, efforts to imbue it with tension and shock sometimes wander into realms beyond those of believability, one incident in particular jarring when set against the tone conveyed in the rest of the film. However, its moments of absurdity are rare enough to be forgiven, and for the most part will be by audiences, as they fall back into the emotionally charged performance by Miles Teller (who in real life has practised drumming since he was 8 years old) and the enthralling, Oscar worthy performance given by J.K. Simmons. This, when coupled with the seamless transitions and excellent shot selection of Chazelle, make ‘Whiplash’ one of the best films of 2014, and certainly one to keep an ear out for (no pun intended) come awards season.
Director: Damien Chazelle
Stars: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Paul Reiser
Originally published on davidzita.net on 13th January, 2015