Saturday, November 15, 2014

Whiplash: Movie Review

Each drum beat raises the intensity and the stakes of achieving greatness.
Whiplash stars Miles Teller as Andrew Nieman, a promising young drummer attending a prestigious music school in New York City. He's an earnest, hard-working guy determined to achieve greatness. And that's exactly where the film first shows how unique and different this is going to be. While Andrew appears to be a sweet but shy guy deserving of our sympathies, his drive for greatness is going to drive the audience to edge of their seat and the edge of sanity. 2014

Directed by: Damien Chazelle

Screenplay by: Damien Chazelle

Starring: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons

J.K. Simmons as Fletcher. Photo by Daniel McFadden,
Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.
Andrew's music teacher, Mr. Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), is the opposite of what Andrew first appears to be like. Fletcher has a calmness to him that can be incredibly disarming because when he speaks it's going to be direct, harsh, blunt and abusive. Andrew has the necessary respect for Fletcher because he's his ticket to greatness. They both like telling the story about how celebrated musician Charlie Parker couldn't have achieved greatness without Jo Jones throwing a cymbal at his head. The metaphorical cymbal will be thrown.

The film is extremely intense with the ferocious relationship between ambitious student and menacing teacher exploding at any moment. But the film keeps twisting and you never know when that moment is going to be. Their relationship takes some unexpected turns with each character revealing more about themselves and their true skeletons becoming clearer with each scene. Their motives are always pretty clear: Andrew wants to achieve greatness, and Fletcher needs everyone to know that only he can recognize and bring out true greatness.

Left to right: Miles Teller as Andrew and J.K. Simmons as Fletcher.
Photo by Daniel McFadden, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
Your heart is going to pound right out of your chest with every drum beat Andrew makes. The drum intensive score fits the intensity of the film extremely well. Andrew is also determined to be a better drummer with each day and opportunity to show his skills. One of the more interesting points, to a non-musician, is that success is less determined by Andrew's skills but whether or not Andrew's skills match Fletcher's expectations. And Fletcher's disarming nature can also suggest that his expectations may be purposely out of whack.

I loved Miles Teller's shifting sympathies in Andrew. The audience is going to care for his well-being but he steps over the line so many times that you're just never sure what he deserves. J.K. Simmons delivers the performance of the year with his acerbic tongue and a character so damaged and damaging that the metaphorical cymbal can become an actual cymbal at any time.
Miles Teller as Andrew. Photo by Daniel McFadden, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.
Fletcher's insults are often very funny. Harsh but hilarious. The intensity that the film has and the extremities that the characters possess keep the audience in a state of suspense and fear. It's a great film that manages to walk the line between scary and comedy so well. And doing that in what appears to be a drama about music. It's going to take blood, sweat and tears for Andrew to achieve that greatness he desires, literally, but in the order of tears and sweat first then followed by blood.
Best of 2014

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Birdman (2014) - Flying away from the weight of ego, success and celebrity with humour, intelligence and ambition.

Nightcrawler (2014) - Immorality drives this tale of crime journalism to the end.