Whiplash (2015)

Whiplash-5547.cr2Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) is a freshman at Shaffer Conservatory, the foremost music college in the US, looking to improve and perhaps even one day equal his idol, Buddy Rich. His evenings are often spent at the cinema with his father (Paul Reiser), where after numourous visits he finally builds up the courage to ask usher Nicole (Melissa Benoist) out on a date. Neiman is forced to question his priorities, and his loyalties, however, when he earns a precarious place on Terence Fletcher’s (J K Simmons) prestigious band as an alternate. Fletcher expects his chosen musicians to work on his time and nobody elses, which doesn’t leave any time for friends or family — sacrifices his students are willing to make to stay on the band. Neiman gladly suffers verbal and physical abuse as Fletcher pushes him harder and harder, until he can no longer handle the pressure or the pain.

Ask someone whether they’ve seen the new Miles Teller film and you’ll either be met with bewilderment or ridicule. “What”, they’ll say, probably, “him from Project X and 21 & Over and Divergent? Why would anyone want to do that”. Unless, that is, they have. John Travolta made Pulp Fiction, Matthew McConnaughey made The Lincoln Lawyer and now Miles Teller has made Whiplash, a breakthrough and potentially career defining film which effectively wipes the slate clean and recasts him as a serious talent worthy of deeper consideration. Stripped of his fast-talking brogue and false bravado, the long heralded up-and-comer is finally able to connect with his audience on a more meaningful level. He also shows incredible technical prowess, convincing unquestionably as an aspiring drummer with years of practice under his belt and the dedication necessary to keep at it for as long as it takes. It’s a very physical performance — roughly five parts proficiency to one part perspiration — and Teller makes it look as hard as possible, but on purpose.

That J K Simmons is equally impressive as infamous Shaffer composer Terence Fletcher is perhaps less of a surprise, particularly given his scene-stealing turn as an angry editor in Sam Raimi’s Spider-man films and his general high standard of work elsewhere, but his performance is no less of a pleasure to watch. Shaved bald and dressed all in black, Fletcher cuts an intimidating figure; whether he’s throwing chairs at people or simply scrutinising an unfortunate player he commands an unparalleled and imposing presence for a man permanently dressed in a skin-tight black t-shirt. He’s not without his charms, and is even persuasively pleasant when inducting a new recruit or speaking to a friend’s daughter offstage, but such moments of respite are both fleeting and few and far between. Fletcher and Neiman don’t so much share chemistry as an electric charge, and when they are onscreen together the film is volatile and unpredictable — supporting characters can and do get hurt, while Neiman spends much of the film nursing unhealing wounds. He’s an unstoppable force, and he’s just met an immovable object.

It seems Whiplash showed promise from the very beginning, with writer-director Damien Chazelle’s original 85-page screenplay first earning a place on the 2012 Black List and then garnering rave reviews when a shorter version was filmed and finally unveiled at Sundance. In its finished form it is very special indeed; like Black Swan or even Foxcatcher it explores the sacrifices a performer is willing to make in their pursuit of perfection, and the role of their mentors in helping them achieve it. Though it might not quite compare to the former, which made much more of the psychological effects of such intensive training and dogged determination, but it easily outmatches the latter. What marks it out is the fact that to Neiman at least they don’t feel like sacrifices — he only surrenders a single tear. As Fletcher explains, he doesn’t see his methods as extreme but necessary; without sufficient influence the world risks depriving the next generation of contemporary genius. It’s a compelling argument, enhanced by Simmons’ charismatic delivery, but Chazelle isn’t quite convinced, choosing to intervene when Neiman’s arc falls short of full-circle. The ending is exhilarating, intense and completely satisfying, if a little contrived.

Although referring to a piece of music used in the film, Whiplash might just as well refer to the physical effect of watching it. There is a ferocity, a velocity and a sheer concussive force to Chazelle’s film that isn’t so much breathtaking as winding. A shock to the senses then, but perhaps not much of a threat to the higher faculties.

4-Stars

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About popcornaddiction
I am a psychology graduate, a News Writer for HeyUGuys/BestforFilm and, most importantly, a hopeless popcorn addict.

One Response to Whiplash (2015)

  1. Nostra says:

    It’s an intense watching experience, but which such amazing performances totally worth it. Saw it for the second time recently and loved it just as much again.

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