What’s It About? Studying at the prestigious Shaffer Conservatory of Music, percussionist Andrew (Miles Teller), an aspiring musician, hails attention of fearsome conductor Fletcher (J. K. Simmons).
Verdict: Nominated for five Oscars and lauded at the Golden Globes, Damien Chazelle writes and directs a psychosis-inducing masterpiece, unveiling his two phenomenally performing actors J.K. Simmons and Miles Teller. College begins dismally for Andrew (Teller) who performs merely as back-up percussionist to an average music group, resorting to sneaking peaks at Fletcher’s illustrious, and highly desired class band. Teller, embodying a shy, awkward young man, is one who burns brightly with desire to attain musical greatness. And armed to the teeth with anecdotes on jazz legend Charlie Parker, he bitterly rebuffs those who doubt him, chastising and degrading his sportsman cousins as mere fools.
The two leads, Simmons and Teller, clang together during a chance encounter, when Andrew is found rehearsing, late at night, in a deserted school building. Andrew’s dedication to his craft momentarily impresses Fletcher and shortly after he receives an invitation to the school’s elite band. Admission to Fletcher’s band demands expectation of success, an ethos best characterised by “there are no two words in the English language more harmful than ‘good job’.” Fletcher’s furious ethic unashamedly ventures into the sadistic. Reacting to the sharp crack of the musical whip, Andrew applies himself religiously until hands are bloodied, blistered and sore – dawn rehearsals don’t take place in mere rooms; Fletcher’s studio is the devil’s lair. And nothing is enough for the jazz leader, the almighty, who puppets his musicians to rival fiercely against one another, either to provoke success or to manipulate for his own bitter satisfaction. The iconic drum roll is critical to winning Fletcher’s muted acknowledgement, which drives his percussionists to practice for hours until the faultless continuous vibration of noise amplifies the room. As sweat and blood mingle, Simmons uses his astoundingly powerful on-screen presence to thrash the band, welting backs and confidence via nasty, acerbic, violent remarks.
Despite Andrew’s ritualistic practice and driving ambition for status, his drumming is, subtly, intermediate, and this refers to actor Miles Teller himself. As Andrew pours every ounce of sweat into the drum, audience ears strain in an effort to hear the magic, the gift in his performance – yet the untrained ear is futile. Teller, the actor, in reality, is an average musician and it’s Chazelle’s trick of positioning us, the audience, to listen critically. “Are you rushing, or are you dragging,” Fletcher barks – it’s impossible to tell. And that’s the genius of Whiplash – for all Andrew’s admirable confidence of musical capability, only Fletcher, the omnipotent, can decipher raw talent from run of the mill.
Chazelle’s razor-sharp script and close-up camera work, capturing a plethora of emotion, is the beauty of this intense, glorious screenplay, which propels Whiplash to a Shakespearean tragicomedy of sorts. The film, originally a short, was shot in 19 days, seemingly rushed, to create an energy matching Andrew’s impatience for success – audiences will taste the acrid blood on the drummer’s overworked hands.
Despite the relentless hurl of abuse Andrew receives, he respects Fletcher, idolising the jazz leader, desperate to morph into legend amid the chairs and insults raining down on him. Whiplash is a flamboyant celebration of jazz, its madness characteristic of the music’s depth, leaving audiences thrashing on fish hooks, bewildered by Fletcher’s true intentions – to ruin or stimulate greatness.
Final Words: Gripping, mesmerising and shocking, it is fingers jammed into electric sockets for this sure-to-be Oscar winner.
Whiplash is in UK cinemas on 16 January 2015.
To find out why Miles Teller is on our list of the Top 10 Actors to Watch in 2015, check out our video below!