History is full of a lot of different greats. Whether they’re businessmen, athletes, performers, or inventors, they didn’t get there by doing the bare minimum. Many of them sacrificed hours, days, weeks, even years to perfecting their craft and rising above all their competition. It’s not an easy task, but they somehow make it look effortless. We’re always waiting for the next great something and no one really knows what it will take to get to that point. You have to really want something to take your skills to the next level and that road is going to be the bumpiest one you travel on. Will it be worth all the hard work in the end?
Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller) is starting his freshman year at one of the most prestigious music conservatories in the nation and he’s ready to see what this place has to offer him. Ever since he was a boy, Andrew had been a drummer and he devotes most of his time to listening to all of the best drummers and practicing so that he may one day be like them. One night while practicing, Andrew discovers that Terrence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), the school’s studio Jazz conductor has been listening to him and he shows an interest in Andrew’s abilities. Andrew doesn’t see Terrence again, until he walks in on a practice and requests that Andrew meet him at the Studio Jazz room early the next morning.
Excited and eager to play, Andrew arrives and waits three hours until the rest of the jazz performers show up. He’s given a warm welcome and is told to have fun. Within the first thirty-minutes, Andrew witnesses Fletcher’s ruthless nature, as he kicks a member out after verbally berating him for not knowing if he was out of tune or not. When Andrew starts playing, Fletcher is hypercritical of his work, to the point where Andrew cries. During his time in the band, Fletcher pushes Andrew beyond the normal limits, in hopes to unleash the next great drummer. Andrew’s physical and mental state are tried and there’s no telling how his possible career will end up.
Whiplash blares at you full force at what you perceive to be a-thousand beats-per-minute and it never stops to give you even a seconds rest. With a ferocity that can’t be matched, this second-effort from a director that gets music and movies is an extraordinary time at the theater and the heart-pounding nature of the film will leave you dazed by the end. The film totes two spectacularly diverse performances that are among the year’s best and it’s also due in-part to the efforts from the writer/director. Never has the drive and passion to be great at something looked so frustrating and intense. I was transfixed on this film from the beginning drumbeats and stayed in my seat long after the stunning conclusion.
Miles Teller is a name I’ve mentioned a few times in the last year and I’m ecstatic that I can say that he’s yet again proved to be one of, if not the best actors of his generation. This time around, his focus is less on romance and more on passion, as he plays those drums until his fingers bleed and then he keeps playing. Teller is a lot more reserved here, but as his passion and dedication to being a great grows, we see what direction that can take him in. He still has a sarcastic edge to him that comes out when he’s fueled by anger, but he mostly remains driven by rage, frustration, competition, and self-improvement. Teller, a drummer in real life, put so much effort into this role and it shows on his face as the sweat drips down and the blood begins to flow from his fingers.
J.K. Simmons, at this point in time, has that Oscar for Best Supporting Oscar. I never thought I’d say something like this, but I’m very glad to be, as this is a man who’s turned in great roles in the past and has never been truly recognized. As the prestigious director of this Studio Jazz ensemble, Simmons unleashes a horrifying beast whose presence is felt throughout the entirety of the film. Every word he speaks, word he shouts, and gesture he makes is felt in the audience and it pains us to see Teller endure his wrath. His methodology is certainly flawed, but it’s also not entirely crazy, which only makes his character more complex and fascinating. Simmons holds nothing back and his terrifying performance is one for the books. Everyone thinks they’ve got it bad, but they don’t know what a real frightening teacher is until they see Simmons berate his students and put their mental state in danger.
At its core, Whiplash deals a lot with dedication and passion, often taking us to the edge of both. While we sit on the edges of our seats, Teller and Simmons battle it out to the edge of the line that is possibly crossed, in order to take Teller to the next step. Nothing is ever peaceful in this film and there is always a questioning of Simmons methods, but Teller’s character possesses a drive that only the best have and he’d do whatever it takes. He leaves everything great in his life behind and gives it all up for someone who treats him like trash. This brings out an incredibly fragile and susceptible side to Teller and to see him breakdown and freakout while playing the drums is as enthralling as it is heartbreaking. The film questions the morals of teachers and the will of students, while simultaneously providing us with music that’s highly under-appreciated.
Writer/Director Damien Chazzele has absolutely blown me away with his first true effort and his direction is just stellar. He makes use of quick takes and shifting the camera back and forth, tracking the movements of the drums and those watching. His camera finds its focus and lingers on it, which is especially effective as Simmons goes nuts. The writing is sharp, striking, and unrelenting and it effectively portrays the types of characters that we’re spending time with. Chazzele has some horror writing under his belt, which somewhat makes sense because Simmon’s character is much like a monster that Teller needs to conquer and overcome. More than anything, I just loved the idea of following the career of a Jazz drummer and focusing on the unholy amount of effort that goes into being a great.
Whiplash bangs louder than any film I’ve seen this year and it concludes with one of the best finales I’ve ever seen. I still can’t get over the sensation of tapping along with the beat and wondering how long that beat would last, before Simmons interjects and sends fear down my spine. I felt driven to pursue my own passions, far beyond the extent of normality and I love that the passion in this film came across so well. Teller, Simmons, and Chazzele have crafted something truly brilliant with Whiplash and it’s sure to get the recognition it deserves. Whether you’re musically inclined or not, this film will speak to everyone’s longing for being great and hopefully it’ll give them an extra push to do so.