Whiplash

Movie Review #943

whiplash

Premiered at Sundance Film Festival on January 16, 2014. Limited release on October 10, 2014. Drama/Music. This film is rated R for strong language including some sexual references. Runs 107 minutes. An American production. Written and directed by Damien Chazelle. Cast: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Paul Reiser, and Melissa Benoist.

I DEMAND AN ENCORE.

★★★★
By Alexander Diminiano

The first scene in “Whiplash” is our first clue that we’re in for a terrific movie. We start on a black screen, and we hear a tap. Another tap. Another. Another. The tapping starts out at the musical rhythm of 60 beats per minute, then gradually, the speed begins to build. And build. And build, until we’re hearing 8 taps inside of every second then faster and faster and faster faster fasterfasterfasterfaster–

Bang. A silent bang, if there ever was one. At that same moment, the black screen becomes the perspective of nineteen-year-old Andrew (Miles Teller) from down a narrow hallway. He’s sitting at the drum kit. He was the prodigy playing what we just heard. And now he adjust his seat and starts to play again. We draw closer to him, and closer, and closer…

I’m not trying to review a movie as if I were writing a poem; rather, I am attempting to illustrate how director Damien Chazelle turns a simplistic intro into an evocative poem. Chazelle has a superb mind for sight and sound, and he works them together as one entity in “Whiplash”. He uses those two elements to complement the film’s dialogue, its narrative, its characters, and practically every other part of his screenplay.

It’s clear that Darren Aronofsky is someone Chazelle admires. The most obvious hint is that “Whiplash” features a story that somewhat mirrors “Black Swan”. (These two films being perhaps the only two since the new millennium to so memorably detail motivation as a disease of the mind.) Quite frequently, Chazelle uses the technique of hip-hop montages, focusing on objects both related and unrelated to the story in order to demonstrate protagonist Andrew’s frazzled mind. This, of course, goes back to when Aronofsky first introduced the concept in “Requiem for a Dream”.

Miles Teller is truly excellent here in his leading performance, but not his performance in “Whiplash”, nor any performance in the film, nor any performance in any movie released in the past year, quit matches up with the unsettling performance J.K. Simmons gives. Simmons plays a bandleader undoubtedly inspired by Buddy Rich–undoubtedly one of the greatest bandleaders, but not without his short temper. At the same time, Simmons’s dialogue reminds us of Gunnery Sergeant Hartman in “Full Metal Jacket”. Except where Hartman felt humorous and slightly caricatured, Simmons’s Terence Fletcher feels dauntingly real and uncompromising.

During the final third of the movie, Simmons leads us for a moment to believe that we might actually like him in the end, as he tries to redeem himself to Andrew over a dinner conversation. But it’s only a few minutes before he says something that promises we’ll only hate him more: “There are no two words more harmful than ‘good job.'” It’s been a really, really long time since a movie has delivered a line that profound.

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11 thoughts on “Whiplash

  1. I’d argue that when he drops the “good job” line there at dinner I loved him even more. Sure he’s an incredibly abusive bandleader and an ass to boot, but his philosophy is laid bare in that one line. It made me see his perspective so vividly, a perspective I can easily disagree with but it meant everything to him. This movie was flipping fantastic, great to see you champion it as well.

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