Cast: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Melissa Benoist and Paul Reiser.
Plot summary: (Courtesy of IMDB) A young and talented drummer attending a prestigious music academy finds himself under the wing of the most respected professor at the school, one who does not hold back on abuse towards his students. The two form an odd relationship as the student tries to achieve greatness, and the professor tries to stop him.
Who knew that a film about jazz drumming could be one of the most thrilling films to come out in years? One year since its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival (where it won both the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize), it has now reached our shores just in time for this year’s award season. I was really looking forward to seeing this and wanted to see if it lived up to the hype. Well, all I have to say is sorry Birdman but Whiplash has bumped you off the No.1 spot of my favourite films of 2015 so far (mind you it’s only February so it could change).
The story starts off pretty straightforwardly. Andrew, our main character, is a typical student who has just started his first term at a prestigious music academy. He aspires to be one of the best jazz drummers in the business, just like his idol Buddy Rich. One day whilst practicing, he is approached by Terrence Fletcher, the academy’s senior professor. Although he seems less than impressed with Andrew’s skills, he offers him a place in his jazz orchestra. Andrew soon learns that Fletcher will stop at nothing to get the best out of his students.
Miles Teller is still quite a new face in Hollywood. He’s been in a number of films over the last few years (mainly mediocre comedies and that questionable Footloose remake) but this is his first time as a solo leading man. As Andrew, he delivers a commendable performance and he truly conveys the anguish his character goes through at the hands of Fletcher. And the fact that he did all the drumming himself is a feat in itself (some of the blood you see on the drum kit is actually Teller’s own which shows the tremendous effort he put into his performance). But really the film belongs to J.K. Simmons. We’ve seen him steal scenes for years now in films like Juno and Spiderman 1-3. Here he steals the entire film and then some. His masterful turn as Fletcher is nothing short of iconic. He’s a deeply unpleasant person and yet you can’t wait to see him again in the next scene (plus his put-downs are often hilarious albeit at the expense of his students’ self-esteems). And then, just when you think you could empathise with him, he switches back to his old ways and you’re left reeling in your seat. He deservedly earned his Supporting Actor Oscar and has moved up from an underrated character actor to an A-List superstar.
Director/writer Damien Chazelle has proven to be one of the most exciting film makers working today. He has crafted an utterly compelling tale about a profession that you wouldn’t usually associate with psychological dramas. The razor-sharp editing also makes watching this film a thrilling experience, especially during its epic musical finale that will leave you speechless.
Whiplash could quite possibly be one of this decade’s best films. You’ll definitely regret it if you don’t go out to see it.