Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller) is an ambitious young jazz drummer intent on rising to the top of his elite music conservatory. Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) is equally known for his talents as for his terrifying teaching methods. When Fletcher transfers Andrew into his jazz band, Andrew's passion spirals into obsession, as his ruthless teacher pushes him to the brink of his ability and his sanity.
Review by Louise Keller:
Thrilling and disturbing in equal parts, Damien Chazelle's magnificent film Whiplash, about a young jazz drummer obsessed with greatness and the sadistic teacher who pushes him to the brink, is a showcase in which fear, not harmony reigns. J.K. Simmons and Miles Teller offer superlative and unforgettable performances, as their characters duel as if in a fight to the death. Words cannot describe the terror, tension and ferocious power of the film in which ambition and intimidation are discordant bedfellows. How far an artist should be pushed to achieve greatness is one of the questions that is raised. It's a devastating portrait filled literally with blood, sweat and tears, leaving our hearts pounding as fast as the intense drumming. The music is extraordinary, too.
The setting is New York's elite Shaffer Conservatorium of Music and Andrew (Miles Teller) is an aspiring young drummer who wants to leave his mark. He lives and breathes music; drumming is his obsession, listening to recordings of Buddy Rich in his spare moments. Terence Fletcher (Simmons) is the conservatorium's God maker; we immediately sense how vital it is to Andrew that Fletcher notices him. It is the cruel, callous way Fletcher operates that gets under our skin as he offers some unexpected words of encouragement to students, elicits some personal information before using it against them. He is a monster.
It seems as though Andrew's fortunes are looking up, when he is singled out by Fletcher and simultaneously gets a date with the pretty student (Melissa Benoist) who sells popcorn at the movie theatre. But neither opportunity turns out as expected. In the background is Andrew's father (Paul Reiser), a disillusioned, failed writer who quietly supports his son but clearly doesn't understand musical aspirations or what drives him.
Humiliation, bullying, violence are all part of the mix with chairs being hurled, faces slapped and students stripped down to size. Watching blood drip onto the drum kit from Andrew's overtaxed fingers and hands, while close to exhaustion, is unsettling to say the least.
Teller drums with the passion of a man possessed, the physicality of the performance is astounding. As for Simmons, his performance is breathtaking: we are captivated by every tiny expression on his distinctive features. The way he turns from violent abuser to a gentle man is equally impressive. This is a role of a lifetime.
Winner of the 2014 Sundance Grand Jury prize and the Audience Award, Chazelle's film began in embryotic stage as a short (also winning at Sundance), drawing on his own experiences as a drummer. It is as tense as any psychological thriller and replete with terrifying moments. It occurred to me during one devastating scene that the dark twists and turns are Neil Labute-esque. But it also has the operatic highs that only music can bring; that show-stopping sequence at the end of the film when the music wins, is the moment when our hearts can soar. One of the best films of the year.
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CAST: Miles Teller, J. K. Simmons, Melissa Benoist, Paul Reiser, Austin Stowell, Jayson Blair
PRODUCER: Jason Blum, Helen Estabrook, David Lancaster, Michael Litvak
DIRECTOR: Damien Chazelle
SCRIPT: Damien Chazelle
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Sharone Meir
EDITOR: Tom Cross
MUSIC: Justin Hurwitz
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Melanie Jones
RUNNING TIME: 106 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Sony
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: October 23, 2014