There is a moment during Whiplash‘s final fifteen minutes that not only propels the film to unmitigated greatness, but also one of the most accomplished, intense character-driven dramas in years. Writer/director Damien Chazelle, who first made this story into an acclaimed short before getting funding for this feature-length production, has crafted a beautifully layered story driven home by elite performances from Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons. Whiplash is more exhausting than most thrillers.
Teller plays Andrew Neiman, a student at the prestigious (and fictional) Shaffer Music Conservatory in New York. He’s a talented drummer, so much so that his after-hours practicing grabs the attention of Terence Fletcher (Simmons), an esteemed jazz band instructor who’s looking for an alternate for his ensemble. Andrew jumps at the opportunity. While he believes his first few sessions go well, it soon becomes clear that Fletcher is a master at manipulating emotions. He is determined to extract the very best of Andrew’s skills through questionable and over-the-top tactics: verbal abuse, mental anguish, and physical threats. Andrew must decide whether he has it in him to be one of the all-time greats.
Chazelle takes a very straightforward approach to the material. The film alternates between scenes of practicing and Andrew’s relationship with his family and girlfriend (Benoist). It’s the unrelenting intensity of the music scenes that’s spellbinding. Chock full of energetic jazz music, beautifully directed by Chazelle and edited by Tom Cross, Whiplash is always sitting on a live wire with Simmons’s Fletcher ready to detonate. He becomes such a loose cannon by the second hour that you never know what he might do next. It all culminates in a final performance that is as surprising as it is crowd-pleasing.
Miles Teller, who’s played drums for some time, is completely convincing in a physically and mentally challenging role. Andrew is a bit of a loner, making his dedication to music the core of his identity. His transformation from a shy, non-confrontational student to confident, driven master is seamless and mesmerizing. Simmons, as the intimidating Fletcher, is absolutely electric. A scene where the two talk over drinks gives his character some much-needed depth. He desperately wants to oversee a student that becomes one of the best and believes the only way to accomplish that is to push people past their breaking point. Simmons owns the role, dominating the screen at every turn.
Sharp, powerful, and engaging from the first frame on, Whiplash is as intense and satisfying as any movie in years. Chazelle’s direction shapes the film into a true work of art, capturing the movement and precision necessary to be part of a jazz ensemble. It’s a unique, unforgettable experience, and one that comes with the highest of recommendations.
Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
Length: 107 Minutes
Rating: R for strong language including some sexual references.
Theatrical Release: October 10, 2014 (Limited)
Directed by: Damien Chazelle
Written by: Damien Chazelle
Cast: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Paul Reiser, Melissa Benoist, Austin Stowell