Damien Chazelle’s jazz drama (who would’ve thought those two words would ever be put together?) stars Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons. It centers on jazz drummer Andrew (Teller). Andrew studies at Shaffer Conservatory and aspires to be one of the greatest drummers of all time. One day, Andrew is confronted in a practice room by intimidating Conductor Terrence Fletcher (Simmons) and subsequently accepted into Fletcher’s jazz band, the most prestigious at Shaffer and one of the best in the country. Fletcher is known for berating his students, but it soon becomes clear to Andrew that the conductor’s teaching style borders on abuse. The mythical jazz story about the time when Jo Jones hurled a cymbal at a young Charlie Parker for screwing up in rehearsal becomes an allegorical excuse for the distorted moral center of Fletcher’s aggressive teaching.
It’s hard to write a review of this film without directing attention toward Simmons. He plays the part with an unmatched ferocity while at the same time maintaining a necessary humanism that keeps the character realistic. Fletcher is a role made for Simmons, who isn’t a stranger to playing loud, aggressive characters (see if I think Simmons’ role is good enough to win an Oscar here). Teller, too, holds his own in an equally compelling role. Andrew is a character who doesn’t realize that his obsession to become a famous drummer is hurting him, and Teller plays that naiveté realistically. Teller is a young actor with a lot of talent (see my review of another on his films, The Spectacular Now, here).
The cinematography in this movie is beautiful. It’s hard to think that a movie about a jazz band would have a lot of opportunity for exquisite shots, but they’re there. Being a movie about jazz, the music in Whiplash is exactly what you would expect: great. The final scenes, especially, have really great sound work.
What is lacking in this film, if anything, is the plot itself. There isn’t much depth to be had in following Andrew’s story. The movie relies on the dynamic between Teller and Simmons to pull off its electric mood, a dynamic that is definitely strong enough to carry the film.
See this movie if you haven’t already. Please. If you absolutely despise jazz, you might not like it. But this isn’t a movie just for jazz fans. It’s so much more than that. Teller shows huge promise as a young actor. Simmons is a one-man powerhouse. This movie has an intensity that pulls you in and doesn’t let you go until the final note. Don’t let the premise fool you, this movie is explosive. Love it.
As always, thanks for reading!
Have you seen Whiplash? If so, what did you think? Does it live up to the hype? 5 Oscar nominations, do you think it will win any? Let me know in the comments!
–Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)