REVIEW: Whiplash (2014)

UK Release Poster - Sony Pictures Classics
UK Release Poster – Sony Pictures Classics

The following is a review of Whiplash – Directed by Damien Chazelle

Whiplash was one of my favorite films of 2014, and it is also one of the two 2014 films I rewatch the most (the other film being Guardians of the Galaxy). But I realized – when I rewatched it the other night – that I had actually never officially reviewed it. This may, in fact, be as good a time as any to review the film. Tomorrow, I’ll be seeing Damien Chazelle’s next film La La Land for the first time. So, as a bit of a warm-up to that forthcoming review, I thought I’d finally review one of the true masterpieces of the 2010s – Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash – one of my favorite films.

Whiplash is an Academy Award winning independent film about a young jazz drummer named Andrew Neiman (played by Miles Teller) who is a first year jazz student at the prestigious Shaffer Conservatory. He is a driven young man but his career hasn’t taken off yet. He’s just an alternate drummer in a small school band at the conservatory. Until, one day, Terence Fletcher (played by J. K. Simmons) – a famous conductor at Shaffer Conservatory – recognizes his ambition and invites him to join his studio band.

The somewhat wide-eyed Andrew is honored and doesn’t hesitate when he gets the chance to become the studio band alternate drummer. But he soon learns that Fletcher is a vicious conductor who doesn’t accept mistakes and expects perfection. Fletcher’s abusive instructions soon take Andrew down a dark path.

Whiplash is a thrilling story about ambition and, to an extent, addiction or obsession. It is a film that works like – and has a similar structure to – a sports film, and is even more captivating than any sports film I’ve ever seen. I knew nothing about drumming or jazz music before I saw the film for the first time. I had no knowledge of how that world worked for talented musicians before I saw the film.

To be honest with you, I wasn’t interested in that part of the film. When I had first heard of it, all I heard was that J. K. Simmons had given one of the best performances of that year – which he, indeed, had – so I was shocked when I fell head-over-heels in love with every inch of this film. First and foremost, I continue to be impressed with the way Whiplash is edited and the film’s entire sound design.

Yes, it is a well-acted film, but that adjective doesn’t do the two main performances justice. Miles Teller is a talented actor and, to me, he was clearly born to play the role that Johnny Simmons played in the original short film. He masters the wide-eyed nature of the character in the beginning, and is credible in portraying his character’s heightened ambition and arrogance as the film moves forward.

But even that performances pales in comparison with J. K. Simmons’ portrayal of Terence Fletcher in the feature film. The level of intensity with which he plays the strict conductor is astounding. But, still, I can see why someone like Andrew Neiman would want to impress this guy. There’s just something about him, and Simmons does a fantastic job of bringing that element to the character.

Make no mistake, his character is especially vicious, but while I’ve never encountered any teacher or professor who is that extreme, I recognize elements of the character. Like the way he carries himself, the way he enters a room, and the respect he commands from his studio band.

Whiplash isn’t a perfect film (and, really, few films are), but the feeling you’re left with at the end of the film is. It’s an exhilarating and energizing ending. Every time I rewatch the film and the final shot of the film goes off the screen, I desperately want an encore even though the energy of the final sequence always leaves me breathless. Whiplash is a must-watch independent masterpiece.

10 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex

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