Review – Whiplash

If music be the food of great cinema, then Damien Chazelle’s note-perfect study of the human cost of aspiring to greatness is a rich feast indeed.

Whiplash is one of the discoveries of the year and should not be missed. Good job? Great job more like

Whiplash is one of the discoveries of the year and should not be missed. Good job? Great job more like

Whiplash lives up to its name by snapping the viewer back and forth with an intensity as ferocious as J.K Simmons’ demonic black-clad conductor Terence Fletcher.

The crucible of sound and fury that is the Shaffer Conservatory music school makes Fame‘s Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School look like kindergarten, while the complex relationship between Fletcher and gifted jazz drummer student Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller) has the air of Frankenstein and his monster.

Andrew (Miles Teller) gets the first of many bollockings in Whiplash

Andrew (Miles Teller) gets the first of many bollockings in Whiplash

Fletcher at one point states to Andrew: “There are no two words more harmful to the English language than ‘good job’.” Fletcher’s style of teaching (if that’s what you can call it) is to bully and excoriate those he deems worthy of interest in order to, so he claims, unlock the greatness within them.

His drill instructor approach terrifies many of the students in his elite class, but for Andrew it propels him to the next level and soon every waking moment is taken up with obsessively refining his talent in the hope of winning Fletcher’s approval.

Andrew (Miles Teller) gives it what for in Whiplash

Andrew (Miles Teller) gives it what for in Whiplash

The story behind how someone becomes great in their chosen field has long captivated filmmakers who, like most of us, have a morbid fascination with the price that is often paid to reach the very top. While we marvel at the skill they display and the accomplishments they make, the human cost can be terrible and it this we are drawn to.

One of the more striking examples in recent years was Darren Aronofsky’s superb Black Swan, in which Natalie Portman’s ballet dancer slowly loses her grip on reality as she strives for artistic perfection.

Andrew (Miles Teller) gets friendly with Nicole (Melissa Benoist) in Whiplash

Andrew (Miles Teller) gets friendly with Nicole (Melissa Benoist) in Whiplash

Whiplash may not be as weirdly horrific as that movie, but it shines just a harsh a spotlight on its protagonist, whose growing arrogance and unhealthy determination to succeed at all costs make us question our sympathy for him at the hands of Fletcher.

The way he treats love interest Nicole (Melissa Benoist) is revealing, particularly during their first date when he reacts disdainfully to her admission that she doesn’t yet have her whole life mapped out in front of her. The same goes for his father (played by Paul Reiser), who is also a teacher but more of the ‘good job’ school. Andrew’s reaction to his dad during a dinner scene involving family friends is also telling in that it reflects the influence Fletcher is having.

Fletcher (J.K Simmons) opens up a can of whupass on Andrew (Miles Teller) in Whiplash

Fletcher (J.K Simmons) opens up a can of whupass on Andrew (Miles Teller) in Whiplash

That said, there’s no denying the commitment Andrew has to his craft, especially in the film’s near-wordless final reel; a gladiatorial battle of wits between master and student that is one of the most electrifying and exhilarating scenes of the year. Some critics have accused it of being too manipulative, but it’s in keeping with the characters with whom we’ve spent the previous 90 minutes.

Blood, sweat and... drums in Whiplash

Blood, sweat and… drums in Whiplash

Teller treads a very fine line between unlikable and sympathetic and is utterly convincing behind the drums. For a movie such as this to work, you have to believe the actor is actually playing the instrument in question and in Teller’s case nary a shred of doubt exists.

As good as Teller is, however, Simmons is out of this world. It’s a part any seasoned actor would love to sink their teeth into, but Simmons makes it his own and imbues Fletcher with an unpredictability that’s frankly mesmirising.

Whiplash is one of the discoveries of the year and should not be missed. Good job? Great job more like.

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37 comments

  1. le0pard13 · December 8, 2014

    Oh, Hell YES! I saw this a month ago and it’s still registering. Its treatment to the craft, commitment, and crazy of music by the artists is so unique, but dead on. Beautifully photographed, too. If this doesn’t get a boatload of nominations, there is no justice. Wonderful review, Mark.

    • Three Rows Back · December 8, 2014

      Thank you buddy. Simmons deserves a Best Supporting gong or two for this. I loved the tracking of the cover during the music scenes; very Scorsese.

  2. theipc · December 8, 2014

    Any boobs?

  3. fernandorafael · December 8, 2014

    Great job! πŸ˜‰ Cannot wait to see this!

  4. Robert · December 8, 2014

    Nice review, top 10 movie for me.

  5. ZoΓ« · December 9, 2014

    Keep hearing great things about it, looking forward to seeing it! Awesome write up!

    • Three Rows Back · December 11, 2014

      Thanks Zoe. It’s a fabulously intense movie experience; check it out!

  6. Stu · December 9, 2014

    Can’t wait to see this, it sounds great. I didn’t realise it was out yet so I’ll try and track it down!

    • Three Rows Back · December 11, 2014

      I saw it as part of the Odeon’s Screen Unseen thing. It’s not due out in the UK until next month.

      • Stu · December 12, 2014

        Ah right! I need to get more on the ball with things like that, it’s really annoying to have to wait for things like Whiplash, Inherent Vice, Birdman etc. etc.!

  7. Brittani · December 9, 2014

    Excellent review! I can’t wait to see this one.

  8. The Vern · December 10, 2014

    I like reading that this is somewhat compared to Black Swan just without any of the horrific elements. I would like to check out this when I can

  9. Nostra · December 10, 2014

    One of my absolute favorites this year, such amazing performances and a movie I can’t wait to revisit.

  10. ruth · December 11, 2014

    Great review here Mark. Interesting parallel there w/ Black Swan, I could totally see that but without the super dark & disturbing surrealistic elements. That image of the bloody drumsticks is telling though, boy sounds like pretty intense stuff.

    • Three Rows Back · December 11, 2014

      Cheers Ruth πŸ™‚ – am very pleased to have caught it; one of the best of the year for me hands down.

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  12. ckckred · December 11, 2014

    Nice review. Definitely one of my favorite movies of 2014 and I was completely blown away by Simmons. His performance was incredible and I hope he gets some accolades come this awards season.

    • Three Rows Back · December 11, 2014

      Ta! If Simmons doesn’t pick up something come awards time there is no justice. Thanks for the feedback mate.

  13. Tom · December 11, 2014

    Right you are Mark, Simmons is just. . .mind-blowingly good. What a battle those final 15-20 minutes are! I’ve been starting to put together the 2014 DigiBread Awards and I’m not sure where Whiplash ultimately will land, but the more I think on it, the better a chance it has of cracking my Top 8 of the year. Superbly realized film, this was.

    • Three Rows Back · December 11, 2014

      DigiBread Awards? Love it! I’m not one for end-of-year lists, but if I was I’d be hard pressed to come up with a better name than that!

      • Tom · December 11, 2014

        Yeah these sorts of lists are ultimately pretty arbitrary but I had too much fun doing the first one last year, so I figured, hey why not. πŸ˜€

        Hope you pop on by whenever it goes live. Should be end of month. πŸ™‚

      • Three Rows Back · December 11, 2014

        I will mate, count on it.

  14. polarbears16 · December 15, 2014

    My favorite movie of the year. So intense and brilliantly acted (JK Simmons better win that supporting actor award). That final sequence was truly something else. Great review!

    • Three Rows Back · December 15, 2014

      Thank you! Simmons is something else isn’t he? It’s right up there for me.

  15. georginaguthrie · December 15, 2014

    I’m seeing this this weekend – I can’t wait! My old conductor used to have chairs thrown at him my his teacher in the conservatoire…classical / jazz music is a tough business!

  16. Victor De Leon · December 21, 2014

    Stoked for this! Cant wait. Still playing at my local indie theater. Nice job on the review. Very insightful πŸ™‚

    • Three Rows Back · December 21, 2014

      Thank you Vic; kind words! You’ll love this man, of that I have no doubt!

  17. Mark Walker · January 24, 2015

    Good job, mate! πŸ˜‰
    Caught this a few days and thoroughly enjoyed it. Excellent flick and Simmons was incredible!

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