Whiplash

Whiplash  photo starrating-4stars.jpgNot since Black Swan have the body modifying rigors generated from one’s dedication to an artistic discipline, been rendered so graphically on film. Miles Teller is Andrew Neyman, a freshman jazz drummer at a prestigious, Juliard-esque music school in Manhattan. He meets his match in one intimidating instructor named Terence Fletcher. I know the path it takes to be the best at anything requires perseverance and pain, but what Andrew goes through is something akin to cruel and unusual punishment. Whiplash is at heart a simple story highlighted by two outstanding performances.

Anyone who has ever seen J.K. Simmons’ intense portrayal of Vernon Schillinger in the HBO series Oz knows the man can play frightening. His work in Whiplash is a seething vessel of vitriol that holds commitment to craft above everything else. He wants to mold this young freshman into the next Charlie Parker and this is his means of extracting greatness. “There are no two words in the English language more harmful than good job.” he says. But his speech goes much farther than that. His ignominious directions in class are profanity laced tirades. His character is closer to the drill instructor in Full Metal Jacket than any movie teacher you‘ve ever seen before. What J.K. Simmons achieves as Terence Fletcher is something of an anomaly. He plays a teacher so abusive, it borders on caricature. Some of his antics will either provoke disgust or laughter. I heard quite a lot of the latter at my screening. But that’s partly what makes his performance so mesmerizing. It’s both a fearsome and fearless achievement and one that will undoubtedly court Oscar talk.

Miles Teller is extremely effective as relating the devotion it takes to be one of the jazz greats. As Andrew, he has had to make tough choices in his life. He is a young man with a singular purpose to achieve his dream to be remembered. At one point a terse exchange while eating with family causes him to say this: “I’d rather die drunk and broke at 34 and have people at the dinner table talk about me than live to be rich and sober at 90 and nobody remember who I was.” That outlook is reflected in the decisions regarding his social life. He is sincere and honest, but also perhaps a bit unsympathetic. This is exemplified in a conversation he has with his girlfriend shortly into their relationship. Their interaction is short but what is said is key. In many ways a discourteous, but authentic moment.

Whiplash is a movie that concerns a teacher and his pupil. Our tale is a relationship focused on music but the subject could’ve been about anything really: ballet, gymnastics, law, nuclear physics – any pursuit that demands a lot of time, hard work and practice. Whiplash unquestionably takes those ideas to the extreme. It makes something outwardly fun and enjoyable, namely jazz music, seem punishing and unpleasant. Miles practices so hard that his hands drip blood. I wonder whether a jazz musician would even warm up to the portrait of their career here. I think it raises a lot of interesting questions though. For example, What amount of torture is legitimately required in order to be legendary? And do “tough-love” methods justify the results? Come to think of it, there was no love – just tough. I doubt many schools could harbor a teacher given to the physical and mental abuse of a Terence Fletcher- even if he did regularly develop gifted students into virtuosos. I still responded to the film though. Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons form a spellbinding duo that compels you to watch. It certainly gives me a whole new appreciation for those musicians that truly excel in their craft.

10-19-14

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22 Responses to “Whiplash”

  1. What a great review! I don’t know if I’ll be able to live if this film doesn’t release here in India.. It has already been drowned in praise from the heavily populated blog-o-sphere . SO pumped for this! Can’t wait.

    • It might get a theatrical release based on the critical acclaim. J.K. Simmons is sure to get a Best Supporting Actor nomination at least. If not, it will make its way to Amazon at some point.

  2. Great review. I love jazz music so that alone would warm me up to the film. The price one pays to become legendary–I don’t know if it’s worth deforming your fingers over, but I reckon there are those that will pay any price to be legendary. I’d be happy with excellent. 😉

    • Paul Reiser plays his father and he doesn’t understand his son’s acceptance of the torture he allows himself to be subjected to. This is mostly with regard to his teacher. Reiser actually represented a lot of what I was feeling. Although it’s somewhat unclear whether the film wanted you to side with him or his son. Regardless, the father is a loving presence.

  3. Great review. Fletcher also reminded me of the drill instructor in Full Metal Jacket and JK Simmons is the perfect pick for this role. 🙂 The music is terrific and I loved how the movie ended. Hope people watch Whiplash when it gets its a wider release.

  4. GaryLE828 Says:

    Your description of the teacher reminds me a great deal of a similar figure in one of my screenplays; combined w/ Carell’s character in “Foxcatcher”. I really hope these two characters are not exactly like the one I wrote. Good review. Will have to watch when it’s accessible to me at theater or online.

    • Even if the archetype is the same, the dialogue and situations will be different. I haven’t read your screenplay but I suspect you need not worry. 🙂

      • GaryLE828 Says:

        Yeah, hopefully you’re right. I just hope that readers/producers/execs won’t read the synopsis and feel I am borrowing from these films w/ similar themes. I have actually had the idea since 1994. Once I started writing screenplays in 2007 I developed the story and wrote the first draft. Still working on it in 2014. lol.

  5. I do love J.K. Simmons. I was going to check this out just for him but it’s great to hear that it works overall. Cheers Mark!

    • You know his range. A large portion of the mainstream public is only familiar with J.K. Simmons as the editor-in-chief of the Daily Bugle in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy. Oh boy are they in for a rude awakening. Yikes!

  6. I had forgotten all about this! Now I can’t wait. Between the interesting casting (Miles Teller apparently is still trying to get away from 21 & Older-type material. . .which I think is great!), and Simmons’ apparently powerful performance, I can get over my disinterest in jazz to see this play out. I have nothing against the music, I just don’t listen to it. Could be a bit of a chore to watch this at some points, but by the sounds of it the performances are more intense than the music might have me believe. lol

    • Between this, Rabbit Hole and The Spectacular Now, Miles Teller is developing into a fine young actor. He even had one mega box office smash on his resume now (Divergent).

  7. “Not since Black Swan…” That was all i needed to hear. Great review! Cannot wait to see this one.

  8. Nice review. Just saw this and was blown away. An incredible picture for sure and J. K. Simmons was phenomenal.

  9. This was pretty spectacular. The performances were awesome. Definitely should garner some Oscar buzz. I loved the ending too. 4 1/2 stars

  10. Whiplash turned out to be my favorite film of 2014. I couldn’t think of another film that evoked the same kind of intense emotional reactions for me as I watched it. The movie is raw, visceral, and horrifying. At times I honestly felt like I was watching a horror film. I agree that J.K. Simmons gves a mesmerizing performance that’s fearsome and fearless. He and Teller complement each other perfectly. You’re right that the movie raises a lot of interesting questions about how far is too far when it comes to the teacher/student relationship. Whiplash stuck with me long after I left the theater.

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