Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 47 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Strong Language including some Sexual References
Directed by: Damien Chazelle
Written by: Damien Chazelle
Starring: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Melissa Benoist, Austin Stowell, Jayson Blair & Kavita Patil
No matter where I’ve turned on the internet or what TV channel I’ve been watching, it seems like there was no avoiding the marketing campaign for Sundance winner and potential Oscar nominee WHIPLASH. Everywhere I looked, I saw some form of praise for this dark drama about obsession, abuse, and an unrelenting drive to be great. With all this build-up, there was the ever-growing possibility of the film being too hyped up for its own good. Let me put those fears to rest right now by saying WHIPLASH lives up to everything that’s being said about it and more. This is one of the very best films that 2014 has to offer!
Andrew Neiman has recently been accepted into Shaffer Conservatory (the finest music school in the country) and is working his ass off to be the very best drummer that he can. Taking interest in the young man is fearsome conductor Terence Fletcher. Fletcher has a reputation for being a tough and demanding instructor, but Andrew is up to the task of working under him. As Andrew is accepted into the school’s Jazz band, it becomes quickly apparent that Fletcher isn’t just tough and demanding…he’s also a master manipulator and an all-around abusive dickhead. Instead of giving up on his dreams, Andrew decides to keep working under the harsh conditions of Fletcher…which leads into an intense emotionally charged battle between the two.
A movie centering around a struggling drummer might not sound like the most riveting piece of cinema on paper and there are plenty of clichés associated with mentor-protégé stories, but WHIPLASH proves both of these assumptions wrong. One key asset to the film that director/writer Damien Chazelle puts you into the mindset of Andrew (brought to life in a stirring Miles Teller). This protagonist is sympathetic and we understand his aspirations for a future career as a musician becoming an obsession. Drumming is the most important thing to him and vicariously it becomes a similarly important goal to the viewer for the entire running time. This story could easily be seen as the downward spiral of a young man as his work begins to destroy his life, but WHIPLASH is so much more than something that simple or easy to describe.
A strong element that takes WHIPLASH into intense unexpected directions is J.K. Simmons’s antagonist. As the foul-mouthed Fletcher, Simmons delivers the performance of his career thus far. The film doesn’t take any sort of easy route in offering up answers to what kind of person that Fletcher really is. He’s a phenomenally written character with highly questionable methods, but a drive that’s more complicated than one may initially expect. As the film goes on, new developments are revealed about Fletcher and it really makes the viewer question if they should outright hate the guy by the conclusion. I’m not all in for the trials of abuse equaling greatness, but Fletcher comes across as almost making a solid case for it in the context of the story (especially in one conversation).
WHIPLASH stays constantly intense. The viewer may find themselves getting frustrated with the film in the sense that it is pummeling core emotions. The story is all around excellent and I can safely say it has one of the very best conclusions that I’ve seen to a film in a long time. I had no clue what I was in store for and found myself questioning what the outcome of the final minutes would be, but was extremely pleased with how the film wound up. Just like the rest of the movie, the ending of WHIPLASH offers no easy answers and leaves you pondering long after the credits have begun to roll.
It’s true! Believe the hype! WHIPLASH is a thrilling, original, and excellent film any way you look at it. Miles Teller (who I ragged on earlier this year for starring in the crappy DIVERGENT) pulls a 180 turn in his stellar performance as a struggling young man whose ambition might be the end of him. J.K. Simmons (usually given small side characters) is allowed free rein to play a borderline psychotic antagonist in the best performance of his career thus far. This film is a powerful beast (much like the title music number that’s repeated various times throughout). I adored WHIPLASH and plan on watching it many times in the coming years!