Tuesday, 27 January 2015


Whiplash, 2014
Directed by Damien Chazelle
Nominated for 5 Oscars including Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor

What can I really say about Whiplash that hasn't already been said? Whiplash is about Andrew Neiman, a freshman at Shaffer, the best musical school in the country. A drummer, he's obsessed with becoming one of the greats and spends all the time he has practicing drumming. Terrence Fletcher is a teacher at Shaffer who helms the schools most prestigious jazz ensemble. Fletcher comes across Andrew in a practice room one evening and Andrew finds himself recruited into Fletcher's band. His initial elation is quickly turned to terror and obsession. Fletcher has a notorious temper, is incredibly picky, and can (and will) reduce any student to tears if they are not playing to perfection. This pushes Andrew farther than he has been pushed before, determined to become great and to impress his teacher. But we start to wonder, at what cost does Andrew pursue greatness?

You've probably heard this all over the place. Whiplash is a fantastic movie. Seriously, I love this movie. Just everything about it is so energetic and electric and passionate. Who knew a movie about jazz drumming could keep you on the edge of your seat?

Miles Teller as Andrew is wonderful. The fact that he hasn't gotten more attention (or just any attention) kind of baffles me. Teller did much (if not all) the drumming himself and the way he was able to act while drumming like he was, is incredible. He's mentioned in interviews that he didn't realize there were so many close ups of him for the film and that this explains why he's making the faces he does. But this is one of the things I loved about his performance. He was just so completely absorbed by the role, by the physical toll that this kind of drumming is taking on him. It felt so real and it felt so raw.

JK Simmons as Fletcher. Again, what else is there to be said? Fletcher is a complex yet monstrous character. He's an absolute monster, a complete psychopath, and his opinion means the world to Andrew. Simmons just absolutely nailed it. What could've easily just been the part of a yelling teacher, Simmons was able to give some weird, twisted complexity that I never really come to understand. Fletcher is someone that is never quite understood. You're never quite sure where exactly he will go next, or what will make him tick. But you do always know something will piss him off and you tiptoe around him. Simmons is fantastic and his upcoming Best Supporting Actor win is definitely deserved.

This is a movie about two people and the effect they have on each other. Andrew has never been pushed harder by anyone in his life. A lot of people argue it's too far. But Fletcher will tell you it's never too far and it will either produce results that were always there, or you'll walk away because you never actually had the passion or drive for it in the first place. And it's a film that leaves me asking the question of whether or not this statement is true. Is there ever a limit to how far and hard we are pushed? And even if it does produce incredible results, is it ever worth it? Is there ever room for compassion? Fletcher is the anti-thesis of the phase of "everyone's a winner" thing that the school systems, and just society itself, seems to hang on to. You need to be pushed in order to become better, and if no one ever pushes you, we're depriving the world of greatness. There is much to discuss on this point and the film leaves you with an uncomfortable and open ending on where exactly the line is (if there is one at all). But the overarching question of "at what cost?" seems to be the theme of the film.

Usually, I don't really notice editing. I noticed it in Selma when the cuts were strange, and I noticed it in Gravity and Birdman when there were lots of long shots. But the editing for Whiplash is incredible. The cuts are quick and harsh, just like the music featured. It's a constant back and forth, stop and start. It almost seems to mirror the film's title itself, constantly flinging you back and forth, with this sort of Whiplash effect. I'm not even sure how to describe the editing, but the cuts were fantastic and it made the film feel so alive and electric. I can't be happier that this is up for Best Editing at the Oscars. I would absolutely love it if it won.

Anyway, Whiplash is just a perfect, solid movie. It's a movie about passion and obsession, about pushing yourself farther than you've ever been pushed, and a movie about two people who seemingly need each other, in a very strange and twisted way. Just everything about this film is so well made, is so fitting with the story it wants to tell. It doesn't drag on too long, and it thrives on the fact that it is simply telling a single story, with minimal side stories involved. Actually, the lack of side stories (and all of them had specific purposes to the main story) is what made me like this film so much. It's a concentrated character study on two men, nothing to detract from that, no fluffy filling. Whiplash knows exactly the story it wants to tell, exactly what it wants to say and do, and does exactly that.


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