Left to right: Miles Teller as Andrew and J.K. Simmons as Fletcher
Photo by Daniel McFadden, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
2014, 106 minutes
Rated R for strong language including sexual references
Review by Joshua Handler
Whiplash tells the story of Andrew (Miles Teller), a jazz drummer studying at a prestigious music conservatory. Andrew dreams of becoming one of the greats and will push himself as far as possible to make that dream a reality. At the conservatory, Andrew is recruited by Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), a conductor who pushes his students past the limit to achieve perfection, to join his higher-level band at the school. As Fletcher pushes Andrew farther and farther, Andrew begins to question whether his dream is worth the sacrifice.
With Whiplash, Chazelle explores whether or not the quest for perfection is worth pursuing, even if it means giving up your sanity. His screenplay is incredibly sharp and creates some of the richest scenes I've seen in any film so far this year. Every scene between Andrew and Fletcher is a masochistic game, and Chazelle smartly doesn't resort to pop psychology to explain either character. Watching each scene unfold is like watching a time bomb - you never know when it's going to explode, but when it does, it's going to be spectacular. Because of Fletcher's hairpin temper, every scene with him is terrifying and unpredictable. His character, though, isn't just a man with a hairpin temper. To Chazelle's credit, Fletcher is far more developed and is one of the most fascinating characters to come along in some time.
Simmons and Teller are stellar. Individually, they light up the screen, but together, they create a kind of magic rarely seen in films. Teller brings honesty and commitment to his roles (see The Spectacular Now as a prime example), and Whiplash is no exception. His intense performance shows once again that he is the real deal. Simmons has been one of my favorite actors for years. He's memorable in just about everything he's in, so it's refreshing to see him lead a film like Whiplash. Simmons brings a cool sense of cruelty and a sick sense of humor to Fletcher, a man who's insanely clever and psychologically astute. This performance is one for the ages.
I thought Whiplash would end 30 minutes before it did. Normally that means that the following 30 minutes are torturous to sit through, but with Whiplash, that meant that the film was about to barrel into a climax so heart-pumping, so visceral, so hypnotic, that it was able to quicken or slow my heartbeat with every drumbeat. The film's climax is so unexpected and exciting that both times I saw it, I was shaking in my seat with tears streaming out of my eyes. Credit must be given to cinematographer Sharone Meir and editor Tom Cross, as one's work complements the other, particularly during the finale.
Overall, I can't think of a better film this year than Whiplash. To me, the best kinds of films are those that give me a new experience. Whiplash is one of those. I have almost no criticisms of this film and would happily see it for a third time. I hope you all will love this movie as much as I do, since I truly think that it is an outstanding piece of filmmaking.