Very VERY rarely does a movie I have been looking forward to for months actually come anywhere near my expectations. I’ve been hurt before…The Dark Knight Rises… Interstellar… definitely Prometheus. None of those are bad films but definitely fell short of what I wanted. Whiplash I’m glad to say is the opposite.
The plot of Whiplash is absurdly simple. We have Andrew, a talented young drummer (Miles Teller) who goes to one of the best music schools in the country where everyone is looking to get in the good graces of supreme conductor Fletcher (JK Simmons) in an attempt to become part of his elite ensemble and thus start on a perceived path to greatness. That is until we find what an absolute dick Fletcher is in his teachings. Seriously, calling him a c**t doesn’t even come close. The movie then asks the question of, is hard teaching bordering on emotional torture (excessive berating, having furniture being thrown at you etc.) justified if it makes you one of the greats by pushing you further than anyone would have otherwise? And that’s it.
Simple and effective, and here’s why. First of all the film lucked out that Teller can actually play the drums and then became ridiculously good to complete this role, a role he acts out very well. There was definitely a range from him that shows promise when Andrew has to overcome everything from social awkwardness and generally having an introverted personality to all those around him not understanding what he’s trying to achieve, to getting over the disappointment of persistently being told he’s not good enough by the man he respects the most, all in the name of being the best. JK Simmons is also outstanding, this role was made for him. There was no doubt in my mind that this is exactly how the material was meant to be portrayed on the big screen, this guy needs some serious award nominations for making this role his own. So the lead actors are great, always a good start. It’s hard to say exactly what made the way it was shot so effective but the up close and personal berating the musicians (but especially Teller) receives every 10 to 15 minutes never gets old. The script is written is such a way that the dark humour contrasting with the innocence of Andrew’s ambition to be great just makes the whole experience more intense.
I myself now also have a new appreciation for just how hard drumming can be. I’m not a moron, I understand any instrument played at the highest level takes a ridiculous amount of time and talent but I’ve never been exposed to the art of drumming. All those drummer jokes can be shelved for now, I think I’ll pick on bassists for a while, at least until a worthy film comes out about them. The director did a great job in showing the blood sweat and tears (all literal) that comes with throwing yourself at a cause in such a complete way. Then we have the scenes with the drumming that are all just so engaging. Whether its when he is practicing, being periodically stopped for not being on tempo and trying to correct himself or the absolutely ridiculous finale I was completely encapsulated by the intensity of each moment.
I always think a film that leaves questions unanswered intentionally, not through poor film making, and thus creates talking points long after the film is finished is always a positive. This film does that. Personally I was left feeling a little ambivalent (in a good way) with a tension searing right through me as the payoff is an emotionally complex one given the way the set up was put out there. There was even a moment in this film I was absolutely sold on and if was any other film would have seen coming a mile away and that is a testament to the film making/acting.
I really don’t have much to say about this film in a negative way. I would probably have liked to see the effects of Andrew’s insular personality on those directly around him a little bit more. There is a romance barely touched on and his relationship with his father is very one dimensional. The only time we get to see how different he is to those around him was at an entertaining dinner scene.
Director Damian Chazzlle is not known to me for anything else but this certainly puts him on the map. This guy will get more work and I for one will look forward to seeing it.
This is a film about drumming that is also not a film about drumming. On the face of it simple but also emotionally tense Whiplash is effective in everything it tries to achieve and left me leaving the cinema in a way I don’t think any other film has since Inception (but in a completely different way). Throwing up the question of “How far is going too far when it comes to nurturing talent?” we get an insight into a story well told with character who are interesting and committed. Oscar worthy? Definitely. This is JK Simmons film, the guy gives new meaning to the term ‘tough love’ and that is in no way a disservice to Miles Teller who plays his role as prodigy/victim/student excellently.
Go. See. It.