Words by Troy Balmayer
This film is more than just a “good job” and if you’re on the movie’s time you’ll love the wonderful frenetic energy drummed up from start to finish. It’s shot and more precisely edited spectacularly to fit the core theme of the story and it’s major acting talents are majorly talented actors.
Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) is 19 and into playing drums big time. He gets invited to play jazz drum for Shaffer Conservatory and teacher Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) but soon his musical talent is tested to the absolute limit as Fletcher pushes Neiman to breaking point and beyond in the quest to find a new star.
Damien Chazelle excels here, in only his second feature film. The simplicity and stress of the story are more than enough to leave room for blossoming ballsy acting and racked up tension. The shots of the band have a fluidity that gets broken up nicely from time to time with widening frames or quick cuts to fit in motion with the progression of the song being played. An in car camera makes for a more real shocking cinematic decision that pays off in immersing you into an impacting moment and in general the feel and look of the film grips you at the collar from the beginning and never really lets go.
As expected, with a film centered on music and the world of jazz, a lot of this review must square on the music involved and wow oh wow, does it do a grand job. Justin Hurwitz masters a score that goes from smooth to unbreakable in brutality. The title of the film comes from a song called ‘Whiplash’ where brass and piano make beautiful backing for it and through it the focus of drum beats is subtle but effective. Then ‘Caravan’ showcases more expertise of drumming that smashes in a good way…a perfect way…at least when not rushed or dragged. Double swing time of ‘Caravan’ rockets the the tempo of drumming to the stratosphere and Neiman pours his heart and soul onto the drum kit and you can feel that passion of music power through the speakers. Normally the sound of drums could infuriate without suitable accompaniment but here drum solos however loud are damn exciting and pump you up as you watch adding to the empowering mood this film leaves you with. The sticks blaze over the drum skins with furious intent and not one musical section of this movie is out of place or lacking.
The intensity of the story by Chazelle is more than worthy of it’s Academy Award Adapted Screenplay nomination. It’s crammed with pulsating tension and the level of intensity in both narrative and character traits is unyielding. The desire to be the best is understandable and the tutor/student relationship is harsh and believable. The drive Fletcher tries to instill into Neiman is constant and through one ups and reversals the story comes to a natural conclusion of how Fletcher really is and it’s a brilliant ending with no need for cheesy wrap ups.
J.K. Simmons is a ferocious figure throughout and his Golden Globe win and now Oscar nod are fully deserved. He brings a bullying degree of musical terror to proceedings but isn’t the panto villain he could have been as there’s softening touches to his character and his sharp superb remarks dotted throughout the script are genuinely funny or ouch that’s harsh reaction grabbing. Miles Teller is presented as alone, gifted and somewhat self righteous to his path but the practice route is pushed through Teller’s graft of sweat and non-stop attitude of getting to the top. I know not everyone can be nominated for an award but honestly Teller is amazing. Melissa Benoist who has a small amount of screen time as potential love interest Nicole is the perfect pretty distraction to give more humanity and real world problems to the self-entrapping life of Neiman.
Most people will surely leave the cinema upon watching ‘Whiplash’ with a real burst in their step and a thumping in their mental psyche as it’s such a raw look at music and the compelling back and forth between Neiman and Fletcher. Pacy, tense, funny and just out and out fantastic.
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