Back in May I saw the clip below for Whiplash, a film about an aspiring jazz drummer and an overbearing professor. I waited patiently for six months for the film to be released. Watch the two minutes clip to get a sense of why the anticipation for this film was so strong.
That scene takes place only 20 minutes into the 100+ minute film and is far from the most powerful scene in a building, erratic sequence of events that demonstrate the will to be the best and the extent to which one can push the human body and spirit before it cannot be pushed any further.
Miles Teller plays Andrew, an aspiring jazz drummer at the Shaffer Conservatory, a fan of Buddy Rich and a tireless student of his work. J.K. Simmons plays Terence Fletcher, a sought after professor and leader of The Studio, a Shaffer ensemble that is the highest level at which the best of the best can hope to be a part of. Andrew finds his way into The Studio, only to find out that Fletcher, while a brilliant professor is a psychological tormentor, breaking his students down until the point that perfection can be attained.
Simmons is quite simply outstanding in his best role to date, exhibiting anger and emotion not seen since OZ; every wrinkle and line on Simmons’ face is stretched and contorted as he berates and abuses his students, with particular focus on Andrew. The rapid fire personality of Fletcher rubs off on Andrew and shifts his personality in a Stockholm Syndrome fashion, abusing himself through intense practicing to the point of clothes drenched in sweat and bloody hands. Andrew dates and breaks it off with Nicole, quite coldly, opting to focus squarely on his drumming and his future. Bloody cymbals and drums galore, Andrew pushes himself, turning into a madly driven drummer fighting for his seat in The Studio.
Whiplash is one of those film roles where an educator makes a strong impact on a student. In this case, Fletcher is a saboteur, tearing Andrew down bit by bit; even when there is nothing left to strip from him, he finds more. Fletcher is a sadist and nothing gets past him. When Andrew is finally broken, he shines his brightest.
Teller’s drumming is quite impressive, well-practiced and looking as close to the real thing as possible – it’s tough to fake playing drums in a movie but through the efforts of drummer director Damien Chazelle it comes off as flawless. The film’s cinematography is jazz influenced as well, bouncing around to the music and catching every little facet of a jazz core ensemble that is disallowed from errors. The Sundance Award-winning film is strongest because of the drumming, cinematography and Simmons’ Oscar-worthy performance.
Whiplash is rated R and is playing in limited release.