Movie Review: Whiplash

“There are no two words in the English language more harmful than good job.” – Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons, Whiplash)

DRUMROLL, PLEASE….

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Whiplash comes at you with a fast, furious and fascinating take on the student and mentor relationship. Miles Teller plays a young drummer, Andrew Neiman, who wants to be “one of the greats.” The film follows his “education” at the hands of a brilliant and vicious instructor named Terence Fletcher (expertly played by J. K. Simmons).

Whiplash is one of the most exciting films of this awards season – and it does so without the flash and spectacle of a celebrity cast or special effects – all it needs it simmering tension, a drumset and outstanding performances from its two main characters.

Whiplash delivers at a breakneck pace (mind the puns in this review…). It starts as a low level beat, and the drumroll amps up to a crashing cymbal smash.  The furious tempo keeps the tension riveting – honestly, you’re at the edge of your seat for this immensely entertaining film.

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Teller and Simmons have an intense chemistry as both adversaries and allies. The push and pull between the two actors is absolutely spectacular.  As the interaction between Andrew and Fletcher shifts back and forth from student and teacher, to victim and abuser – you’ll find yourself trapped in the cycle.

Writer-Director Damien Chazelle’s film is based on his own experience. It is sharp and vicious – asking how far are you willing to push yourself to succeed? And how far are you willing to push someone else to force them on the path to success? The action and dialogue play out with more tension that most thrillers, with Sharone Meir’s dynamic camera movements and extreme closeups on the instruments, musicians and maniacs that keep the audience in the midst of the action.

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Miles Teller is one of my favorite new talents in Hollywood. He has a natural charisma and effortless presence in character. Here, he plays Andrew with an air of confidence that is easily wiped away by failure. Driven by a relentless need to be “great”, Andrew exudes an air of superiority to hide his need for validation. It’s an emotional performance that is further punctuated by the physical grind and torture of relentless drumming (for which Teller himself performed), sweat soaked shirts, tears, bloodied hands and bandages. It’s a performance that is both agonizing and amazing to watch.

Simmons gives an award worthy and absolutely terrifying performance as Fletcher, the vitriolic bully of a conductor who is the maestro of Andrew’s biggest triumphs and failures. J.K. Simmons is a talented and seasoned character actor, he’s been great in everything from Spider-Man to Juno, but here, the role is ripe for his taking. He flips Fletcher from nurturing advisor to foul-mouthed, chair-throwing tormentor in the blink of an eye. It’s a loud, over-the-top and abusive performance that makes the audience cringe – yet you can’t stop watching him. He’s already receiving accolades and awards for this powerful perfomance. He demands our attention in volatile and startling fashion – it’s truly masterful (and the Oscar goes to….).

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Whiplash is a pulsing, alive and electrifying film that is as unexpected and fluid as the jazz music it so loves. The drama rises to a crescendo in a final act that is overwhelmingly tense, breath-taking and exhausting.  You’ll feel the hits in Whiplash.

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