When determined young drummer Andrew is spotted by a maniacal professor, his passion for music becomes tainted by an obsession with becoming the best. Andrew is at the top music conservatory in New York and is taken under the wing of the abusive Fletcher, soon finding himself as the core drummer for Fletcher’s jazz band. With Fletcher using verbal, physical and psychological abuse in order to get the best from his students, will Andrew be able to cut it in the cutthroat business of competitive music?
Whiplash is a warped film with an deliciously dubious message. J.K. Simmons is getting all the plaudits for his performance with critics clearly as impressed by him as writer/director Damien Chazelle is by his character. Based in part on Chazelle’s own feelings towards his high school band instructor, there is clearly a complex love/hate thing going on. It’s easy to see why, with Simmons being an actor it’s easy to love, but in Whiplash delivering a terrifying performance that gets results from his scared stiff students. The film ultimately justifies his completely out-of-order antics, suggesting that an authoritarian, dictatorial and sadistic stance can bring the best out of the little people. Lucky for the little people that Miles Teller also smashes out a blinding performance as Andrew, a guy who will go to bloody lengths to impress.
What is so strange about Whiplash though, is that it almost completely forgets about the enjoyment of making music. In the pursuit of perfection, the band members have become joyless prisoners. Fletcher has them standing at attention like soldiers prepared for a war. They clutch their instruments like their lives depend on them. Chazelle emphasises all this by shooting and cutting the film with an urgency that should bring out the rhythm and joy of jazz, but instead makes it feel like an edge of the seat thriller, where lives are at stake.
Fletcher is a bully who gets what he wants from Andrew by using any means necessary. Whiplash is a film that strives for perfection and brings out the thrill in low budget, committed and quick filmmaking having been shot in just 18 days. It is a film about the sacrifices required to be the best at something, even if it means cowering in front of a madman and losing the enjoyment in doing what you love.
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