I waited for this movie for almost a year. I first heard about Whiplash in January, where it won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance film festival. All I knew about it was that it starred Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons, and that people were going crazy about it. Since 2013’s The Spectacular Now, I’ve been a big fan of Miles Teller. Despite the varying quality of his films, I always think he’s remarkably charismatic, in an evil sort of way. Since Sundance, it’s been a waiting game to see this film. However, even with all of the hype and waiting, I’m glad to say that this movie was completely worth it.
Miles Teller plays Andrew Neyman, a drum player at the fictional Shaffer music conservatory. After practicing his drums one night, he is noticed by Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), the conductor of the Studio band, the highest level jazz band at the conservatory. Andrew is unexpectedly moved up to the Studio band, where he is terrorized by Fletcher for the remainder of the film.
Fletcher is a band director who believes that the best way to motivate his students is by harassing and abusing them. He says that he does this to push people past what is expected of them, and that someone who is a true ‘great’ would never give up no matter what is said or done to them. And nobody could play this character with as much intensity and ferocity as J.K. Simmons. He is truly in a league of his own with this performance. With a weaker actor, this part would have seemed cartoonish, but part of what makes Fletcher so intimidating is the realism that is interjected into the performance. Simmons lights up the screen with every frame he’s on, and thankfully he’s on screen for a good chunk of the film. I hope I don’t sound too hyperbolic when I say that this performance is not only one of the best of J.K. Simmons’ career, but one of the best that I’ve ever seen.
However, while Simmons’ performance is absolutely phenomenal, his is not the only one carrying this movie forward. Miles Teller is absolutely heartbreaking as an awkward young man who is generally antagonistic towards most everyone he comes across. Miles Teller gives soul to an incredibly flawed character, and while he’s at times unrelatable, he’s absolutely real. But the most astounding part of Miles Teller’s performance is that he’s actually playing the drums on screen. In many movies involving music, most of the performance is shot through a variety of close-ups that allow for someone who can actually play the instrument to play the instrument. In Whiplash, whenever the drums are played, it is shot wide in a way that allows for both Miles Teller and the drumset to be seen. And while the actual audio track is dubbed, it’s obvious to see that he knows exactly what he’s doing. Miles Teller is said to have taken drum lessons 3 times a week for 4 hours at a time, but he must have been practicing constantly in his free time, because the drum parts he has to play aren’t easy.
It’s hard to end a film well. Often times the 3rd act of a film is the weakest part, because it’s always difficult to bring closure to a lengthy story. But Damien Chazelle, the writer/director of the movie, holds firm control of the film throughout and ends it in the most satisfying way possible. The third act of the film is one of the best third acts that I’ve seen in a long time. And I didn’t breathe or move through the entirety of the insanely intense final sequence.
Since seeing this film, I haven’t been able to get my mind off of it. This is a movie that I want to watch over and over again. Every moment of it is uncomfortable cringe-worthy joy. This movie is why I love cinema. 10/10.