Title: WhiplashDirector: Damien Chazelle
Starring: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Paul Reiser, Melissa Benoist, Austin Stowell, Nate Lang, Chris Mulkey, Jayson Blair, Kavita Patil, Michael Cohen, Kofi Sirboe, Suanna Spoke, April Grace
Plot: Andrew (Teller), a promising young drummer at a prestigious music academy, finds himself drawn into a battle of wills with the highly respective, yet extremely volatile conductor Fletcher (Simmons).
Review: Allow me to start off by highlighting the fact that you could write down everything I know about drumming and jazz music on the back of a very small postage stamp. However even though this is a film based around these two key elements it didn’t stop me from getting a real kick out of this film which unsurprisingly made the end of year lists for most critics, while at the same time Simmons would rightfully have his performance as the foul mouthed and hair trigger Fletcher recognised with by the Academy as he picked up the Best Supporting Oscar.
Based on the experiences of writer/director Chazelle while studying at Princeton High School where he played in like Andrew in a “very competitive” jazz band. It would be his former band leader would form the basis for Fletcher while Chazelle spiced up the character by drawing further inspiration from other notorious band leaders such as Buddy Rich. The original script for the film he would turn into a short film first shown at 2013 Sundance Film Festival and which would lead to Chazelle securing the funding to expand it into its current feature form. If anything though this film is like “The Wrestler” in that it provides a perfect study of the drive and dedication one a character to perfect thier personal art, which in this case is Andrew's desire to make it as a drummer. A goal he is more than happy to sacrifice family and relationships to achieve, let alone drum until his hands blister and bleed all the in pursuit of perfection and recognition of his talent most importantly from Fletcher.
While Teller might not currently be the best known new talent despite appearances in box office friendly fodder like the recent remake of “Footloose” and the surprisingly quickly forgotten “Project X” here he gets to actually show his acting chops as Andrew. At the same time he manages to believably take us on a journey of drumming obsession as we see the shy and awkward freshman being plucked seemingly obscurity to join the big league players of Fletcher’s studio band. It is from here that things really get interesting as we see him quickly succumbing to the spell of Fletcher despite his far from unorthodox and frequently abusive teaching methods, there is clearly some method to Fletcher’s madness as Teller truly sells the obsession to please Fletcher and not be beaten, with the standout moment coming when Andrew’s car is t-boned by truck, yet so determined to not fail he staggers the short distance from his wrecked car splattered with blood and attempts to drum through the performance despite his body rapidly giving out on him as he struggles to hold his drum sticks.
Despite such an impressive performance from Teller it is unquestionably Simmons film as he steals every scene he’s in, reeling off prophanity laced rants, hurling chairs at his drummers or even slapping them when they disappoint him. It’s a teaching method which brought to mind Paul Green who was so memorably documented in “Rock School” and who like Fletcher was seen belittling and insulting his students yet somehow managing to produce staggering successes with the students he was tutoring. Again this is the case with Fletcher who through these verbal and psychical attacks on his student is as he observes pushing them further than they could have hoped, making it so hard to fault his methods when in some strange way they are working, even if its accompanied with self-destructive behaviour to reach the levels that Fletcher demands from his band. The band it would equally seem is the only thing that Fletcher has, though it’s never revealed if his lack of life outside of teaching has been sacrificed in favour of maintain his top spot position within the school Jazz band rankings. Simmons while it could be argued has always been a great supporting actor here he really comes into his own, as he hold the viewer’s attention whenever his is on the screen, frequently catching us off guard with his hair trigger temperament which can see him going from gentle corrections to full blown acid tinged barbs of hate with little or no warning, all the while showing zero compassion for how his methods might be affecting his students, as he sees nothing wrong with having his drummers work through the same section over and over for hours on end, before casually requesting that they wipe their blood off the kit when Andrew finally manages to drum the way he wants.
With two such commanding performances Chazelle could have chosen to shoot the film very simply and relied on the performances alone to drive the film, but instead here quick cuts meet with focused close ups of spit valves being emptied, blood splattered drum skins and ragged flesh as he captures the energy and pace of the music, while emphasising the price of dedication these musicians are willing to pay for their craft. Even if your like myself and don’t know swat about Jazz or drumming Chazelle manages to make the material accessible and easy to follow let alone gripping to watch especially as the tension is slowly cranked between Andrew and Fletcher with the final showdown between the two providing a show stopping finale.
Unquestionably this is a film which lives up to its hype and while Simons might be the main attraction here, the rest of the film holds up on its own merits to not leave you hankering for his next performance, especially when Chazelle shots the film with a vice like grip on the audience that he refuses to relinquish till the. Truly film making at its most exciting and vibrant.