If you thought this film is about whips and lashes, you aren’t too far away. Centered on the tense relationship between a music student and his teacher, Whiplash is possibly one of the best music-based films in a long time. Writer-director Damien Chazelle whips the life of a talented jazz drummer into pieces as he faces the most impeccable music teacher ever.
Whiplash sees Andrew Neiman, played by musician Miles Teller, under the tutelage of Terence Fletcher (J. K. Simmons), who spotted his talent in drumming. Having been accepted into the best music school in the US, the Shaffer Conservatory, Andrew is constantly pushed beyond his musical limits to achieve the extraordinary standards Terence expects of him.
Terence is not just hard to please; he is obnoxious, sadistic and even monstrous, up to the point of hurling objects at his students to get their skills up to speed. Andrew is forced to physically strain himself to reach the desired drumming beats.
That being said, Simmons’ performance is spot on. His attitude as the torturous band conductor that uses verbal and physical abuse to get to his students sees no end. He is relentless and shows zero sympathy to his students. Just when he shows a figment of humanity, he bites back and hits you hard.
On the receiving end of the psychological war, Andrew is persistent to prove Terence wrong. He shows that he’s not easy to bring down and fights back with the same measure of intensity wrought upon him. On top of the pressure Terence puts on him, Andrew’s willpower and the extent that he pushes himself to is most astonishing to witness.
If there’s one fact we know for certain, it is that Andrew would do anything to be remembered as “one of the greats”, including sacrificing friends and family just to focus on drumming. He willingly gives up his social life with his fellow band members in order to achieve greatness as deemed by Terence.
Simple yet dramatic, suspenseful yet intriguing; Whiplash keeps you rooting for Andrew while at the same time feeling sympathetic for him. It triggers memories of the many times we have given up on something when the going got tough, but also reminds us about how far one would go to see his/her dreams and desires achieve fruition.
Adapted from a short film that Chazelle made earlier, Whiplash is only his second directorial feature. He provides minimal characterisations to the rest of the band and places utmost emphasis on the working relationship between Terence and Andrew. Structurally, there is no apparent start or end to this story. It even ends before you know it, but its even pacing keeps you entertained throughout.
It goes without saying that performances by Teller and Simmons will have your eyes fixed to the screen for the entirety of the movie, as one can expect to be caught off guard by the course of events that will keep you on the edge of your seat.
Fast, furious and fascinatingly formidable, this dramatic effort demands to be seen, and is no doubt worthy of the multiple accolades it has garnered in this ongoing awards season. With Chazelle and Simmons getting nominations for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor respectively, it is no surprise if it eventually takes home any of the golden statuettes at the forthcoming Oscars.
Whiplash is now showing in theatres.
Directed by: Damien Chazelle
Genre: Drama, Music
Running time: 107 minutes