Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Review of Whiplash

Written and directed by Damien Chazelle, Whiplash is a drama starring Miles Teller and J. K. Simmons on the pursuit of greatness and the sacrifice needed to achieve it. More importantly, it is a film on the desire for greatness and the harm it can inflict on people striving for it.

Teller is young jazz drummer, Andrew Neiman, who attends the Shaffer Conservatory of Music in Manhattan, one of the best music schools in the country. J. K. Simmons is Terence Fletcher, the school’s fearsome maestro of jazz. After seeing Andrew at practice, Fletcher took the budding young musician under his wing and subsequently bully, insult, and terrorize his young charge into becoming a better musician.

Andrew not only takes what Fletcher dishes out, he willing destroys his personal life (breaking up with his girlfriend, distancing himself from his father) in order to achieve the impossible standards Fletcher demands. However as Fletcher’s demands increased, things comes to a head and the teacher/student relationship breaks down.

Now a lot of people probably had already heard/read about how J. K. Simmons is a shoo-in for the Best Supporting Actor award at the Oscars this year; believe the hype!

Simmons’ portrayal of Fletcher is powerful to say the least. He is the teacher from hell as he pushes Andrew and his other charges to practice and rehearse till they drop. He is driven to get the best out of his students and if this means screaming at them with sexual and religious insults and making them practice till their hands bleed; then that’s the price they have to pay.

In most other films, Fletcher would be the clear-cut villain but in a testimony of Simmons’ ability as an actor, we never lose the sight that Fletcher is first and foremost a teacher. His drive to make the next great jazz player is so all-consuming that he fails to grasp the greatness right in front of him. When he finally realized Andrew’s greatness in the stunning finale, Fletcher’s shock, surprise and final acceptance was something to behold.

However the movie would not work with just J. K. Simmons. I have to say the whole cast was excellent. Miles Teller was in every scene of the movie and I could see why he is so highly rated in Hollywood. His Andrew Neiman was put through hell and Teller’s performance was up to it.

Even the secondary actors were very good. Paul Reiser was almost unrecognizable as Andrew’s loving father and Melissa Benoist (Andrew’s girlfriend) made the most of her limited scenes. Music may be the main drive of Whiplash, but it was the actors that made the film works.

Of course, the direction given by Damien Chazelle helps a great deal. This was obviously a very personal film for the writer/director and throughout the movie, you could sense just how important the movie is to him. Whiplash seems like a labor of love for Chazelle and if this movie is any indication of what’s to come, he could be the next big thing in the director chair.

The movie is of course not without some problems. The setup for the finale was to me way too brief. There’s no way a professional band would just allow Andrew to just come in to perform at a big concert without at least one rehearsal. Also the way the rest of the band managed to follow Andrew’s lead when he went on his impromptu solo was unrealistic, maybe the only unrealistic feature in the whole film.

On the whole however, I have to promote Whiplash as a movie worth watching. The excellent cast and steady direction of the director make Whiplash an uncomfortable but wonderful movie. Anchored by great performances from both its leads, this is one movie you will not forget in a hurry. Watch it! 

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