The central thesis of Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash is the idea that ‘good job’ is poison to creatives, though whether or not praise actually leads to complacency is left ambiguous. Chazelle’s script might have pissed off jazz fans the world over, but the strength of the film’s performances, slick editing and pounding soundtrack make for an intense meditation on obsession.
Miles Teller is a great fit for the awkward character of Andrew Neimann, a drummer who enrolled at a prestigious music conservatory. He’s soon scouted by the messianic figure of J.K. Simmons’ Fletcher for his jazz band. Under Fletcher’s cruel tutelage, in a physically demanding role, Teller comes into his own proving he’s one of the most promising rising stars in Hollywood. The two central performances are outstanding, and watching them play off one another is the film’s main draw, but Simmons is utterly electrifying; it’s an effortless performance, intimidating the students and viewer both.
The cinematography is a careful symbiosis between music and moving images; a swell of shots, as seemingly fleeting as the beat of a drum. The camera, like the soundtrack, is rarely flat or still, instead it maintains a constant motion. It’s terrifically shot, theatrically lit with warm lighting and balancing shadows. Included on the Blu-ray release is the original short film, which is a rehearsal for the main act, playing almost shot-for-shot only without the presence of Teller or the same attention to lighting.
Chazelle’s script is subtle and beautifully conveys character, teasing Andrew’s obsessive dedication which makes him more and more like Fletcher. There’s something of Jesse Eisenberg’s unhinged portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network about him, and it’s stronger for it. Despite Fletcher’s vitriolic and homophobic slurs, he’s captivating, going from a moment of vulnerability to intense hostility in the next.
Whiplash is a film to see for its powerhouse performances and not for its skewed portrayal of jazz. After the punchy ending, you’ll only want to take a momentary breather before a second viewing.
Special Features: Audio commentary / Featurette / Deleted scene / Trailer / Original short film
INFO: WHIPLASH / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: DAMIEN CHAZELLE / SCREENPLAY: DAMIEN CHAZELLE / STARRING: MILES TELLER, J.K. SIMMONS, MELISSA BENOIST, PAUL REISER / RELEASE DATE: JUNE 1ST