Director: Damien Chazalle
Cast: Miles Teller, JK Simmons
Disturbing and emotional were not words I was anticipating to use when describing a film about a drumming prodigy and his overbearing mentor. To me, the student/teacher dynamic already had the scent of a genre well trodden beforehand, not to mention already having fierce competition from fellow BAFTA nominee Foxcatcher. However, Whiplash raises this genre and takes it into dark new realms whereby its viewers are subjected to a nerve-shredding 105 minutes and emerge questioning the morality and sanity of both leading characters.
The film follows nineteen year old Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller), a self confessed introvert and drumming perfectionist who has one goal in mind, to be one of the Jazz greats. Key to helping him achieve such success is mentor Terence Fletcher (JK Simmons), who stumbles upon Andrew mid-practice and asks him to join his coveted ‘Studio Band’.
From this moment, the film takes its watcher on a raw examination in the psychological cruelty and physical exhaustion of the impeccable standards Andrew is now held to. The abusive nature of the relationship unfolds instantly as Fletcher berates Andrew in front of the class for his inability to keep time. Later we are forced to watch his growing frustration in having to master the complex 7/4 and 14/8 time signatures of the film’s title piece ‘Whiplash’, as his hands bleed and blister over the drum kit.
The performances from both leads are excellent, with Teller conveying almost expressionless emotion to convey how he swallows each defeat to overcome the next. Likewise, JK Simmons is masterful in the way he plays Jekyll and Hyde, simultaneously seducing Andrew to build his confidence and trust only to shatter it within the next scene. These waves of pseudo safety followed by danger are present throughout the film, accompanied by dizzying camera work to create the insidious sense of chaos lurking beneath one of the most controlled disciplines.
The film is nasty yet incredibly watchable with a sickly dark humour slicing through its core. The most interesting aspect as a viewer was the atmosphere pre and post film from its audience. Rarely do you hear an audible sigh of relief once the credits roll, then again, rarely do you spend almost two hours clenching every muscle in your body trying to decipher the best possible outcome.