Cinema Review: Whiplash (2015)

Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) yells for perfection from Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) during band rehearsal for Whiplash. Image Copyright: Sony Pictures
Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) yells for perfection from Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) during band rehearsal for Whiplash. Image Copyright: Sony Pictures

Commitment. Wanting something so bad you would go through almost anything, isolate almost anyone, and give everything for success. This is what describes Whiplash. The movie stars Miles Teller as Andrew Neiman, a music student at Schaffer who is striving to become apart of perfectionist Terrence Fletcher’s (J.K. Simmons) Schaffer Conservatory Jazz Band. When he is finally accepted, in a surprise but brief audition during his own band practice the path ahead is nowhere near as golden as it seemed.

This is one of the best films I have seen in recent times. The movie is complusive and claustrophobic in its desire for perfection amongst its characters. J.K. Simmons is mesmerising as conductor Terrence Fletcher who is nothing short of manipulative and abusive with his students, using his charm to gain student’s trust only to literally shout it back to them for dropping a beat, not keeping tempo or being just a hint out of tune. In one scene, he asks one student if he was out of tune. The student fails to answer, so the question is asked again, louder, Fletcher literally screaming in his ear – silencing not just the room but the popcorn in the cinema too. When the student having admitted that he was, and been ejected from the band Fletcher smiles, returning to his normal, charming and unpredictable manner – revealing that it wasn’t that student out of tune, it was another – but a student that didn’t have the confidence to say either way was no good to him either. He tells the other student to tune up a little more and the beat carries on. This gives just a glimpse into the iron fist with which he rules his band as they live on the knife edge of another one of his violent outbursts.

Our counterpoint and focus away from Fletcher lies with Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller). A drummer, who is welcomed into Fletcher’s band with a cymbal thrown at his head for not keeping Fletcher’s tempo either being too fast or too slow and being picked up with it every single time adding to the films repetitive desire for perfection. Teller is brilliantly cast as Fletcher’s newest student giving the audience an insight into just how much dedication students are willing to have to please Fletcher’s demands. He drops his girlfriend and practices so hard on demanding up tempo drum solos that even multiple plasters cannot stop the flow of blood pouring from between his fingers. More than that, Teller creates a character who is able to eventually become Fletcher’s equal.

A film like this, is a dangerous one. The plot is good providing much humour amongst the darker notes, but this could easily fail on execution. It is here the director, the young and aspiring Damien Chazelle, who is just 29(!) has done a superb job with tight shots increasing the intensity of faster and faster drums that accompany the jazz music that characterises this film. The brilliant shot, as a maniac drum solo draws to a close of a shivering cymbal, up close, showing each individual drop of sweat and blood covering it epitomises the intensity of this film. The five nominations for ‘Best Picture’, ‘Best Adapted Screenplay’, ‘Best Supporting Actor’ (J.K. Simmons), ‘Best Film Editing’ and ‘Best Sound Mixing’ at the upcoming Oscars are nothing but well deserved.

As the director, and actors have done their job well – so have the other cogs behind the scene. Whilst much of the film does not require much background music given the material, where required the music maintains the jazz theme providing the audience with frantic clues to the outbursts and conclusions.

In short, this is a must see film at the cinema. It maybe difficult to watch as you watch a cymbal being thrown at someone’s head, or close ups of blood splattered drum kits – but it is very much worth the ride leaving us with an underlying sense of catharsis at the end, and questioning just how far we would really go to fulfil our own dreams – Neiman in that respect could certainly be an example.

Nutleyone rating: 10/10

Whiplash was released into nationwide (UK) on January 16th 2015.