Director: Damien Chazelle
Cast: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons and Paul Reiser
Running Time: 107 minutes.
Release Date: January 16th
There is a saying that whatever you are doing on New Year’s day sets the tone for the rest of the year. I hope that proves to be true with the first movie you see, as if all films were as compelling and exhilarating as Whiplash, then 2015 is set to be a promising year. A story about a young jazz drummer struggling to be the best in his field would not initially cause undue excitement. But it is the very understated nature of this film that seduces you with a simple plot, executed with precision, which will have you squirming on the edge of your seat.
It begins with our hopeful young protagonist, Andrew (Miles Teller), in his first year of a college music academy. He quickly falls under the watchful eye of the school’s main band conductor, Fletcher, played by J.K. Simmons in what surely will be remembered as a career-topping performance. Fletcher is a friend in the corridor and a sadist in the classroom. He switches from one to the other so quickly that, along with Andrew, you’re constantly left wondering where you stand. He will push his students to breaking point and beyond to get the best from them. The question only remains, how far are you willing to go? It’s difficult to describe the plot without sounding cliché, but nothing feels cliché about Whiplash. It’s raw and real.
Accolades have been pouring in for the young filmmaker, Damien Chazelle, who wrote and directed the film, which is only his second feature. It is beautifully crafted with a simple plot propelled by compelling acting and a musical score that will create a new generation of jazz fans. Miles Teller, who to date has mostly featured in rom-coms (That Awkward Moment) and blockbusters (Divergent) proves he can handle subtler roles as this understated jazz student. Through Teller’s performance, you can practically taste the blood, sweat and tear he puts into honing his skills. Cheesy montages that show overnight transitions from novice to expert are thankfully absent. And yes, that’s really him playing the drums.
However, he is over shadowed by the formidable Simmons who commands every scene he’s in. Part friendly-father figure, part Ben Kingsley in Sexy Beast, he seems to suck the oxygen out of every room he enters. Wondering what he’s going to say or do next is one of the main elements that keep you glued to the screen. The use of tight camera shots and extreme close ups leave the audience unable to escape the pressure cooker environment that has been created. This atmosphere is beautifully underscored with the rhythm and cadence of the musical classroom.
Although it may sound like Glee on crack, Whiplash is already proving to be a runaway hit. It proves bells and whistles aren’t necessary to make a compelling movie, just a drum kit and a passion for story telling. The title has multiple meanings and could refer to the crack of a whip, a type of injury or a famous jazz composition. Much like the injury, Whiplashs‘ powerful, sudden force will leave you reeling and breathless.