Whiplash Movie Review
On a very basic level, you could describe Whiplash, the new film starring Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons, as a film about music or a drummer. But to categorize it in such a simplistic way would be doing it a disservice.
This is a film about obsession, passion and the human condition. How far are you willing to go to realize your dreams and potential and at what cost? I guess if you had to sum up the film in one word it would be addiction.
No, not as in an addiction to alcohol or drugs but to the unbridled ambition to succeed at the highest level. This is what Andrew (Teller) strives for. A student at a prestigious music academy, Andrew’s world consists of a drum set, Buddy Rich C.D.s, band-aids for his blistered fingers and his music.
But it doesn’t start out this way. He attempts to have balance in his life. He goes to the movies with his father, he asks a girl out and there appears to be somewhat of a desire to fit in with the other musicians at school. But after experiencing a class led by Fletcher (Simmons), the music instructor/drill sergeant, he realizes all of these things are just obstacles in his way of becoming “one of the greats.”
“There are no two words in the english language more harmful than ‘good job,'” Fletcher says to Andrew at one point. He pushes people physically, emotionally and psychologically to the breaking point and he’s very calculated about it. R. Lee Ermey’s character in Full Metal Jacket thinks this guy should tone it down a bit.
But even after Andrew succumbs to Fletcher’s abusive behavior he still admires him on some level. His own father is supportive, but Andrew doesn’t need a shoulder to cry on. He needs a kick in the teeth because up to that point his best hasn’t been good enough.
Teller is a revelation. In his young career he’s played nothing more than the quick-witted frat guy. Always the life of the party, in this he’s a loner who at one point literally walks right by a party and straight to his apartment. This could signify not only the character’s motivations, but Teller’s evolution and desire for more challenging roles. Andrew requires both raw earnestness and unrelenting confidence and desire and Teller plays it beautifully and effortlessly.
Simmons in contrast is absolutely terrifying. Always dressed in black like he’s just come from the funeral of his latest victim, Fletcher is a tricky character because you could easily see him as nothing more than a belligerent villain and yet Simmons portrays him as a man striving for perfection in others. You better know the difference between rushing and dragging because if you don’t he will burry you.
He sees himself as a vessel to guide the next great jazz player and he doesn’t want to go through the twilight years of his life without experiencing the next Charlie Parker. Every moment he’s on screen you’re on the edge of your seat because you have no idea what he’ll do next. When was the last time you felt that about a character?
Whiplash was made for $3.5 million and took a measly 19 days to shoot. I can’t think of a more efficiently well-made movie this year. The music, acting and direction are superb, especially from a director under the age of thirty, and the final ten minutes are more compelling, exhilarating and dramatic than any film you’ll see this year.
Whiplash is currently playing at the Cinemark Theatre at the Gateway Mall. Check out the Escape page on EDN for showtimes.