A talented 19-year-old drummer with a lot of promise catches the eye of a music teacher, whose terrifying methods try to make students realise their full potential.
Not a great sell, on paper, hey?
What this basic synopsis of Whiplash doesn’t tell you is how this is a gripping, edge-of-your-seat nail-biter.
That it’s a tight, twisting thriller masterfully written and directed by Damien Chazelle.
That you can’t guess the ending.
That you’ll see someone pushed to the brink of insanity, drumming until their hands bleed and fleck of blood splatter the drum kit.
And you’ll see JK Simmons in one of his greatest, most commanding, performances yet as music instructor Terence Fletcher . He’s unpredictable and is almost like a cat stalking it’s prey – circling, maybe joking a bit to let its guard down and striking the next.
Keep an eye out for Simmons come Oscars time – he will be a frontrunner for Best Supporting Actor.
But Miles Teller really holds his own against Simmons’ abuse-blasting Fletcher as Andrew, a student obsessed with becoming the greatest jazz drummer in history – and what he’s willing to sacrifice to achieve that.
You might remember Teller from Rabbit Hole, The Spectacular Now (worth a watch) or this year’s Divergent, but he really shines in this meatier role, in a way he hasn’t been able to in boysy comedies like 21 and Over or teen fare.
And we’re going to hear a lot more from him in the future, because he’s not only part of the Divergent franchise, he’s also playing Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic in 2015’s Fantastic Four reboot, and there’s a sequel to that planned for 2017.
But back to Whiplash.
I have to say, I am a little biased with this film, because I grew up playing drums and saxophone in different highschool bands.
I never had a teacher like Fletcher, but I totally recognised this world – and that feeling, that yell-out-loud frustration, when you’re practising, and practicing, and practicing and you just can’t seem to nail it.
Whiplash is ferorcious, it’s visceral, it has a brilliant ending, and I can’t say enough about how impressed I was with it. I also actually, funnily enough, was really inspired by it. It’s made me want to pull out my old saxophone for the first time in years.
Some fun facts:
– Whiplash is actually based on Damien Chazelle’s own experiences – he is a drummer and based Fletcher on a high school teacher.
– Miles Teller has been playing drums (rock, not jazz) since he was a teen and nearly all of what you see onscreen is him. Even on the soundtrack apparently around 40 per cent is Teller.
– It premiered at Sundance Film Festival earlier this year and won the Grand Jury Prize.
– The title refers to the 1972 song by Hank Levy that’s played in the film… Damien Chazelle has said was the bane of his existence growing up.