Damien Chazzelle’s (seriously, where has this guy been hiding?) Whiplash is a piece of cinema for true film fans. While not for everyone, Chazzelle has masterfully created not just a feature film, but a cinematic experience. The director is believed to of said that he wanted Whiplash to be a film that did for music what Scorsese’s Raging Bull did for boxing. He succeeded. Shot in nineteen days and edited in just ten the film looks aesthetically pristine and carries with it an edgy atmospheric tone that gives way to this sense of, well, you never really know what, but something pretty meaningful.
Miles Teller (the new actor on the block, who performed all of the drumming scenes himself – seriously, that talent?!) and J. K. Simmons are at the centre of Chazzelle’s masterpiece and individually stand out as a force all of their own. Simmons was just graced with the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor and boy, was it deserved. As Terrence Fletcher, the actor exudes a sense of self-appreciation and pigheadedness as he demands excellence and absolute perfection (his version of it, anyway) from his jazz students at the New York Shaffer Music Academy. Teller’s Andrew becomes Fletcher‘s new student when spotted working his magic on the drums and the pair embark on a tumultuous teacher-student relationship.
Simmons’ Fletcher is ruthless and unforgiving and the extremes to which he pushes his students is at the focus of Whiplash. The physical extremities that the conductor puts Andrew through time and again garners a genuine reaction from those watching and by the final moments you find yourself experiencing a kind of unfeigned hope that the young student can overcome the brutal methods of Fletcher‘s teaching and demonstrate his gift as a drummer. Both Simmons and Teller, who differ in age by about thirty years, exhibit what power each possesses as an actor and its incredibly exciting to see what comes next for both. More importantly, they work well as a duo, representing different morals and divergent views on life.
While generally a strong feature, there are one or two weaknesses. The background story of Fletcher is seriously underdeveloped and a scene or two explaining how he came to be this way (which the current running time would certainly allow) would of been welcomed. Similar to this, Melissa Benoist as Nicole is featured prominently in the trailer yet is present in only three scenes, and her dialogue is limited. Benoist is clearly a natural and to see more of her and Teller together would of added a new dimension to a male-dominated, masculine film.
Its actually pretty hard to articulate what you experience when seeing Whiplash, and its taken me two days to finally write this review. Chazelles direction is faultless, and his editing of the drumming sequences are some of the best this genre has seen in years. The diegetic score is a treat all of its own, and the final scene (which lasts around fifteen minutes) is the stand out – Teller beats the drums at incredible speed, the sound of the jazz beat is immensely enjoyable and the added elements of sweat drops on the symbols and blood splatters on the drums make it all the more authentic. While not a whole lot happens, and you are never sure if you are particularly inclined to like either Fletcher or Andrew, Whiplash still manages to finish with the thought in ones mind of what a treat that viewing just was.
A considerable portion of the mainstream viewing audience will undervalue Chazelle’s film, unable to see beyond the narrative of a drumming student and his tutor. For the section of theatregoers who appreciate cinema for all of its unique and life-changing quirks Whiplash will swiftly be placed in the top ten. A second watch is needed, and further contemplation on this work of art will continue for some time, but for now all you need to know is that this is probably one of the best films you will see all year. And its only January.