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A Review by: Jeff Turner
Dir: Damien Chazelle
Written by: Damien Chazelle
Produced by: Blumhouse Productions, Right of Way Films, Bold Films
Starring: Miles Teller, JK Simmons, Mellisa Benoit, Paul Reiser
WHIPLASH is the best portrait of obsession in an artist I’ve seen since BLACK SWAN. It’s a battle between two ideologies; do you teach your students to where they are happy with themselves? To where they are mentally healthy? Or do you push them to where they could be truly great? To where they could truly become a legend?
Such a conflict rages with Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller), a young musician who has gotten accepted into the Shaffer School of Music, one of the best music schools in the country. He sees an in with the class of one Terrence Fletcher (JK Simmons) and manages to make the cut by the skin of his teeth. The problem is that Fletcher is a little intense, and definitely psychologically and emotionally abusive. WHIPLASH follows the aggressive work of these two men.
Wherever you think WHIPLASH is going to go, it likely won’t. This is a film where the trailer feels like a thriller; and it often times has the emotional intensity of one, but it isn’t. This is a film focused on its dialogue, with no real violence to be had.
Miles Teller is fantastic here. With the mediocre year he’s had thus far (unimpressive turns in DIVERGENT and THAT AWKWARD MOMENT) I was beginning to wonder if he might fade away. Now I am starting to see that that’s most likely not going to be the case. He offers for Andrew something similar to what he did for Sutter Keely; he takes this character that might be considered a douche in certain circles and imbues him with an everyman appeal. Miles Teller excels at making you feel as though you know him, as though you know the character he’s playing.
JK Simmons gives one of the best performances I’ve seen from him, and JK Simmons is a great actor. He’s always been a great actor. He makes Fletcher seem real, and with a character like this one could easily descend into self-parody, but Simmons never does. He makes you, the audience member feel guilty about whatever it was that a character on screen did to piss him off. He gets inside your head, and psychology is where WHIPLASH works best.
Another thing about WHIPLASH is the love it has for its music. Appropriately so as this is one of the best soundtracks of the year. The best scene is at the end, which to evade spoilers involves a sequence of drumming. The way director Damien Chazelle shoots the scene is brilliant, he spends so much time on the drumming itself and the expressions of the actors that you forget that there are other people in the room. You are totally lost in this man’s drumming, you are lost in the music.
WHIPLASH is a strong picture, promising great things from Damien Chazelle, who is still a relative newcomer. It will certainly seem relentless to some, with how cruel Fletcher can be, but there’s a great quantity worth loving nonetheless. The music is fantastic, the performances are layered, and the film is a fascinating psychological portrayal from start to finish.
Suggestion: See it