Whiplash (2014) Movie Review

Whiplash 2014 Movie

Whiplash (2014)
Director: Damien Chazelle
Cast: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Paul Reiser, Melissa Benoist

Miles Teller is on a roll. A year after his critically acclaimed performance in The Spectacular Now, Teller’s latest film Whiplash is one of my personal favourite indie movies of 2014.

Whiplash is throughly engaging and entertaining. There’s genuine dramatic tension between characters, lines of dialogue that’ll either make you laugh out loud or marvel at its razor-sharp cruelty and an exhilarating ending.

Director Damien Chazell’s jazz music drama centers on a highly driven nineteen year old drummer named Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller) and his music conductor Terrence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) whose bully like tactics can either make or break Neyman’s dreams for greatness.

Making Neyman sympathetic at the start of the movie is important to pulling off this character because we later see how his bull-headed ambition is flawed.  We are introduced to Neyman as a student at an elite music conservatory who still enjoys going to the movies with his Dad; his mother died when he was really young. It’s hard not to root for him as he tries to impress Fletcher in the hopes of being invited into the best band at the school.

Not everyone will end up liking Neyman, he’s self-righteous at family dinners and he’s so focused on what he wants he doesn’t care about how his actions affect others. But I’m impressed by how he literally sheds blood, sweat and tear in pursuing his dreams.

Neyman is a believable character and a large part of that is because of Miles Teller. Teller is so natural in the role, we forget that he’s acting. It’s an even stronger performance than in The Spectacular Now, he’s gets to show off more range in addition to his drumming skills. (Note: musician/actor Nate Lang was hired for professional drumming and training Teller.)

The primary relationship in Whiplash is between a student and a teacher. It’s clear from the start that this isn’t going to be your inspirational ‘Dead Poets Society’ type teacher dynamic. Actually quite the opposite. Fletcher’s verbal tirades are degrading and abusive, he reminds me of the drill sergeant in Full Metal Jacket.

J.K. Simmons is perfectly cast as Fletcher. Like his role as Jonah Jameson in Spider-Man, he’s able to be both funny and mean at the same time which is not easy to pull off. Fletcher is rarely shown outside of the music conductor role; however, he’s a sufficiently developed character for the central themes of this movie.

Whiplash 2014 Miles Teller

Chazell’s screenplay is finely tuned with only some minor blemishes. Some of the plot devices are not so much contrived as it is we can see the writer’s hand working to make things happen. Because the pacing is great, it’s actually a positive to move the story along to the next sequence of events. 

Whiplash is a coming-of-age story but I’m a little hesitant to categorize it as such because it doesn’t fully capture all the elements of the movie. It’s a wonderfully executed story that is partly about self empowerment and perseverance. 

After watching Whiplash, a quote from Matt Damon came to my mind. He said that the best word of advice he would give to aspiring actors is “No”. On one hand, it’s a lesson in handling rejection but it can also ignite a person’s deepest motivation to succeed, almost like an act of defiance.

Not in a dissimilar way, Fletcher believes that the worst words ever are “good job”. Fletcher does have his own method of madness which is at the heart of what Whiplash is about. Is there a line or limit in pushing someone beyond their conceivable abilities in order to achieve greatness? 

The title Whiplash comes from the name of one of the songs Neyman performs. The music, in particular during the final scene, is absolutely riveting as are the story and performances. Judging by the Audience Award won at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Whiplash has a wide appeal even though it’s a small, personal story. And it’s quite possible that J.K. Simmons will get an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor. Whiplash gets a strong recommendation, well worth checking out in theaters.

 

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