A promising young drummer enrolls at a cut-throat music conservatory where his dreams of greatness are mentored by an instructor who will stop at nothing to realize a student’s potential.
THE REVIEW: I could use a whole bunch of adjectives to try and describe Whiplash like electrifying, mesmerizing, exhilarating, fierce, fiery, vigorous… but this film is more than just a simple word to describe it. Whiplash is a journey to discover the untapped potential that resides in all of us. That journey has its fair share of happy moments and dark places. It has a passion and a drive to it that is unrivaled, at least compared to the other nominees for Best Picture this year. It is a film that will make you feel the same discomfort and anxiety that Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) goes through as well as his triumphs and successes.
At the heart of why this film succeeds all these emotions is two knockout performances by two incredible actors. One is Miles Teller and the other is J.K. Simmons who plays instructor Terence Fletcher. Both characters are written meticulously and convey a very broad range of emotions. Andrew Neiman is a young, hardworking kid who puts his heart and soul into drumming to become one of the greats. We see the toll this takes on him, not only physically (through the blisters and literal blood on his hands) but mentally as well. It ruins the few relationships he does have and drives him deeper into isolation. Drums are his life and there is nothing he cares about more. So when Terence Fletcher, the brutally mean and cruel band instructor bashes him for NOT KEEPING HIS TEMPO, it damages Andrew.
J.K. Simmons doesn’t just embody Terence Fletcher because he has a foul mouth and can yell at his students until 2:00 in the morning, pushing them to their limits. Simmons makes Fletcher an incredibly complex character because we also see the goodness in him, the part of him that wants to help his students. As he talks about toward the end, he does what he does to make the next great musician. To become the next great musician requires you to do more than you think is possible. It requires you to go past your breaking point and keeping going until you reach a certain nirvana, a place where you and the music aren’t two separate things but one and the same. In Fletcher we see his patience, kindness, and good intentions but these qualities are often masked by his ruthless and unrelenting personality who causes his students to breakdown in an effort the prove themselves.
THE TAKEAWAY: Whiplash is really a film about these two characters: Andrew Neiman and Terence Fletcher. Both Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons1 give memorable performances and help make this film the roller coaster journey and exhilarating thrill ride that it is. There’s a lot more to this film that I simply cannot describe in words. The right words probably do exist but I lack the true talent and skill to write them down for you to read. In a way it’s ironic, given the message of this film. To push yourself to your limits and be the best artist you can be whether that’s music, writing, filmmaking, etc. It’s a universal message that speaks to all of us. For this reason, even if you don’t like jazz music or the work that goes into playing an instrument, you will still enjoy Whiplash.
THE RATING: 5 out of 5