Whiplash

whiplash-003
Directed Damien Chazelle

Starring Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons
In UK Cinemas January 16th, 2015

by Joanna Orland

Blood, sweat, a single tear.  Whiplash exudes passion and physicality like no other film.  The story follows music student Andrew as he strives to be a great jazz drummer in the vain of Buddy Rich or Charlie Parker.  He’s got the talent to be one of the greats, but does he have the drive?

What started off as a short film for director Damien Chazelle has turned into an epic and award-winning feature.  Based on his own experiences as a jazz drummer, Chazelle captures the hard work and determination that it takes to succeed in doing what you love.  Work ethic must be a hugely important concept to Chazelle to have shot Whiplash in a mere nineteen days with only ten weeks of editing.  The result is a masterpiece.

Chazelle takes the music genre and flips it on its head by giving it a filmic sports treatment.  More like Raging Bull than Mr. Holland’s Opus, this film puts a mentor and student head to head to battle it out with everything on the line.  A student-teacher relationship like you’ve not seen before on film, the dynamic between Andrew (Teller) and Fletcher (Simmons) is electrifying, dangerous, abusive and empowering.  No doubt, there will be much discussion of this film’s moral teachings, but at its core, it is offering itself up for debate – how far should someone go in order to achieve greatness?

The visual rhythm of the film is paced to the music seamlessly and passionately.  The way this film is musically constructed makes the audience even more empathetic to Andrew’s plight as they too can feel the music and feel the passion he feels for it.  Whiplash makes jazz music accessible to a wide audience by immersing them in it, but also by humanizing it.

Andrew’s drums are an extension of his soul and body.  You can feel the passion in his playing, but you can also see his sweat and blood all over them.  It’s so extreme that at one point Fletcher barks orders to clean the blood off of his drum set.  The drums are definitely the third central character in this film, and never before has an inanimate object felt and looked so alive.  The drums’ performance is nearly as good as the two lead actors’, Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons.

Miles Teller’s star has been on the rise since The Spectacular Now, but this film will assuredly put him on the map as an acting force to be reckoned with.  A drummer himself since age fifteen, Teller bares his soul in front of the camera and gives everything in his portrayal of Andrew.  I honestly felt his desire to succeed and the suffering he was struggling with in order to achieve his dream.  No one could have played this role as sincerely and brilliantly as Teller has.

J.K. Simmons has been a well-established character actor for many years.  Finally, this is the leading role that has been long overdue for him.  He excels as a terrifying music maestro.  He instills fear not only in Andrew, but in the entire audience as his mere on screen presence can send a chill down people’s spines.  While Simmons has had a long and illustrious supporting career, this is his best performance to date and it only took a leading part to get it from him.

The entire film is intense, gripping and evocative, but none of it as much so as the end scene.  This is potentially one of the greatest finales portrayed in modern cinema.  So fully immersed in this scene I was, for a few minutes, I actually thought I was at a live concert.  The thunderous applause and standing ovations this film received tells me that perhaps I’m not the only one to fully lose themselves in the moment.

Never has a jazz movie been so emotionally evocative. Blood, sweat & a single tear must have gone into making this film one of the greats.

Whiplash: J.K. Simmons J.K. Simmons

Whiplash: Damien ChazelleDamien Chazelle

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