With Whiplash earning a surprising five nominations, including a nomination for Best Picture, I thought it would be a good idea to look into a movie maybe a few of us haven’t seen and, I think, should see. While a film about jazz drumming might not sound incredibly appealing, especially with the look of this years Academy Award nominations looking particularly bland; Whiplash dashes across the screen with such intensity and fury that I couldn’t help but be dazzled by not just the filmmaking, but the velocity at which the film flies by.
Miles Teller plays first year jazz drummer, Andrew Neiman, a new student looking to show what he’s capable of at a Julliard-esque school where if you aren’t first, you’re last. He then comes in contact with infamous teacher Terence Fletcher, played with ferocious intensity by J.K. Simmons. Based on this synopsis, I can see how it may look fairly generic and without the direction of Damien Chazelle, and wonderful performances from the actors listed above, it definitely would be. While Teller may not seem revolutionary, it’s once again the (sorry to use the word again but it perfectly describes nearly everything about this movie) intensity that he gives off in his performance that really shows. J.K. Simmons ends up stealing every single scene he is in. As Fletcher, Simmons disarms the viewer with his charisma and charm before crashing out of his characters false niceties. While I’m sure Full Metal Jacket has been used as a reference point for the way his character handles himself, it would be hard to find a closer resemblance for his mannerisms and attitude in the role.
The performances may be the first thing that a viewer notices in terms of what makes Whiplash impressive, but without its excellent editing the movie would almost fail to excite. Jazz isn’t always the most exciting music to listen to, or even watch, but the editing makes every scene of instrument playing seem loose yet wound up in how complicated the scene looks. Symbols, snares, and pedals; every hit of the instrument feels like a bullet shot out of the barrel of a gun. And however strong the workmanship on the film is, and it is strong, Whiplash would be nowhere without a cohesive, adept script. Characters may seem one dimensional at first but throughout the course of the run time, I felt engrossed by the motivations of these people and the costs at which they pay to prove that they can be the best at what they do.
My favorite movies generally include themes of oppression, mental anguish, or loss of identity. I also don’t mind a good amount of entertainment or “popcorn” fun, as pseudo intellectuals who enjoy the atypical Oscar bait this time of the year, but I can’t help but feel that I got the best of both worlds in this movie. Now this movie doesn’t feature any dancing Groot’s or Groundhog Day-esque revivals (although that would be something to see in this movie), Whiplash just happened to be one of the most entertaining and thrilling movies I have seen this year. While there are certain issues with the movie (occasionally the storyline goes a bit out of the way to try and make things even worse for our lead when it already feels like shit’s rolling downhill), I had a difficult time seeing those issues while watching it, because I was so damn engrossed by everything else. Would I call it a crowd pleaser? Not quite; but I would call it one of the best movies I got the chance to see last year.