Whiplash is a bold, original film, and even though I'm not so strong on it as others seem to be, it's still a tense, smart character study featuring tremendous performances from Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons.
Written and directed by Damien Chazelle in his sophomore effort, Whiplash follows drum student Andrew as he strives to be the best drummer since his idol Buddy Rich. Attending Shaffer Conservatory in New York, he is mentored by abusive teacher Terence Fletcher. Andrew must overcome the obstacles in his personal life that threaten to derail his progress, all the while trying to stay sane dealing with his barbaric teacher.
Although you will probably laugh at Simmons' politically incorrect brashness, Whiplash isn't a pleasant film. Chazelle drew inspiration from his own beginnings as a jazz drummer, making the film feel personal and authentic. The world of jazz doesn't seem to be one of ugliness, or even one of particular interest to most people, but the volatile relationship between Andrew and Terence is unwaveringly involving and nasty. Unfortunately, despite the compelling drama, I found none of the characters to be relatable enough to really care about and even though the film is hypnotising to watch, it's ultimately empty and left me with nothing to think about.
The technical aspects of Whiplash are superb. Every snare, bass drum, and cymbal crash are rendered perfectly, and the musical numbers are not only a pleasure to listen to, they make for some of the most suspenseful scenes you will see in most dramas. In my opinion, Whiplash is a musical drama rather than a drama about music, and the band scenes are wonderfully effective at immersing you in Andrew's world and you can feel the concentration and focus radiating off of him. Teller brings a vulnerability to his performance that is needed in a film that often threatens to become a dearth of emotion, and his chemistry with J.K. Simmons is perfect. Simmons is undoubtedly the highlight of the movie, giving an endlessly entertaining but also complex performance as the troubled music teacher. He deserved his Oscar, but I still wish the script had delved more into his personal and musical background instead of continually enforcing him as a vulgar, ferocious psycho.
Whiplash is a tightly written drama that is never boring to watch. It's an interesting portrait of two men willing to do whatever it takes to get to the top, and the performances couldn't have been any better. I just wish that a potent film like this had stuck with me more, and I didn't find it so emotionally dry. But hey, maybe it's just not quite my tempo.