Right, lets attempt to sum up this brilliant film with as few music cliches as possible.
Damien Chazalle's exhilarating; Sundance conquering Whiplash tells the story of a music college showdown between a determined young jazz drummer and the sociopath conductor of the school's prestigious ensemble band. The film is 105 minutes long.
It feels like 10.
Miles Teller plays compulsively ambitious drummer Andrew Neyman, a first year student at a high end music university in New York. He is handpicked by the school's ruthless, perfectionist ensemble conductor Terrence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons, all guns blazing) to be the alternate drummer in his band. This is all set up incredibly fast and the film plays out from here largely as one great big staring contest of the nerves.
Fletcher susses his student out immediately; an only child from an unmusical family, gifted but naive about being a great; and proceeds to lift his little finger and duly wrap the boy around it. Neyman is desperate to please this new father figure; show the folks back home that they were all wrong; and fulfill the destiny he himself has laid out. To get where he wants to be he's willing to throw his girlfriend, his relationships and his own general well being under the proverbial bus- or truck as the case may be.
All of these subplots are of little consequence though, the film plays out mainly as a battle between its two remarkable leads. J.K. Simmons looks like his life has been leading up to the moment, a magnanimous muscular presence with all the best lines too. Miles Teller isn't playing against type necessarily but he gets to do a lot more than wave his usual charming shtick (although thankfully a peripheral love interest allows him to do a bit of that too).
The director- no surprises a jazz drummer himself- conducts their showdown scenes with great big brash strokes; all nerve racking intensity and high tempo (300 words, had to happen) rat-a-tat editing. You can just feel yourself being pummeled into the seat, teeth clenched, desperate for a release.
The final twenty minutes are some of the most intense this writer has ever seen and if the finale was deafening, the applause which followed in the Theater Croisette was even more so. People jumped from their seats to a standing ovation which lasted the entirety of the credits and beyond. It was like we'd all won promotion to the Premier league, a truly rousing festival moment, one I hope never to forget.
I shook the director's hand on the way out. It was trembling more than mine.