“Whiplash” Is A Chilling Masterpiece of Self-Destruction

By Scott Kurland
Film: Whiplash
Starring: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Paul Reiser, and Melissa Benoist
Rated: R
Director: Damien Chazelle

We see thousand upon thousands of films come out a year about teachers, mainly they are inspirational souls who impart their wisdom on their students. Occasionally, there’s a rare situation where that “inspirational” teacher is in fact a monster. They’re depicted as being abusive, calculating, and diabolical in order to get their message across. I have spoken to you dear readers in the past about films featuring teachers like that. Some of you are teachers, and have said “A Teacher would never be like that.” Well, I have seen first hand teachers who use negative behavior to teach, granted it’s not beneficial to a student but it’s real. Why am I bring this up you asked? Mainly because this week’s film “Whiplash” is about a said nefarious teacher. Let’s see if this film is the Oscar fodder it’s being marketed as.
“Whiplash” is the story Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller) a first year Jazz drummer at the Shaffer Conservatory of music. Andrew is in one of the must cutthroat program in America. When Andrew is admitted into the studio band an advanced programed taught by the legendary Terrence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons in an electrifying performance.) Andrew realizes why the drummers have a high turn around rate. Fletcher uses verbal abuse, violence,  and mental manipulation to break his musicians. As Andrew plays and practicing to the point of his hand bleeding, he goes down a path of self destruction and egotism. Will Andrew be Fletcher’s latest victim or become his most worthy foe?
Back in January I reviewed Miles Teller in the disappointingly awful film “That Awkward Moment”. I praised Tellers as being the only likable thing of that film, and I must say that the kid pulls it off again here as Andrew. Teller has this John Cusack confidence to him that lightens up the screen. The great thing about Teller is how he’s able to play flawed and damaged characters that are self destructive but somehow endearing. Once again Teller gives another award worthy performance as Andrew. Teller’s performance can be summed up in one word “astonishing”. We watch Andrew take lump after lump, and more abuse from a teacher he should hate, but he slightly idolizes him. That’s all because of Teller, who went through the ringer for this role practicing the drums three days a week for four hours at a time. Teller will probably be snubbed this awards season and it’s a downright shame.
Last week, I reviewed Edward Norton in “Birdman” and predicted him as the front runner for best supporting actor unless someone proves more worthy. Well I think Simmons might be that worthy soul. I’ve always admired Simmons as an actor, and still feel he’s a highly underrated actor. Yet, this might be his crowning performance to date. When “Juno” came out in 2007 and “Up In The Air” in 2009 I was praying Simmons would be nominated for his compassionate and understanding characters. Sadly he was not, maybe play a violent sociopath who uses personal problems against his students is his key. Simmons is terrifying to watch as he destroys his students in the name of perfection, but he may also be brilliant. In this film we see two sides to Fletcher an understanding wisdom spouting intellectual and a raving lunatic tossing chairs at his students and calling them every homophobic slur in the dictionary. We question who is the real Fletcher, but I with out a reasonable doubt ing my mind think it’s the latter and he uses the former as a way to trick his students for his darkness to be able to shine through. I really believe that Simmons will be the one to beat come February.
What I loved about this film was the storytelling and direction of Damien Chazelle. “Whiplash” began as a short film that premiered at Sundance then it became a feature film that also premiered at Sundance. Yet, Chazelle kept the moral of the story the same. If we let the wicked be wicked and not speak up they’ll always win. There’s also argument for another moral about how a musician never becomes great without being pushed to be great. Chazelle pulls off something very impressive for his second feature film, he makes us feel exactly what its lead protagonist in ever frame of the movie. Chazelle’s writing is so pitch perfect that when Andrew succeeds we feel his pride. When he’s working too hard we feel the pain and frustration rushing through him. Chazelle has crafted a well written, directed, filmed, and acted gem.
“Whiplash” is one of my favorite and best films of 2014. At times it’s really tough to watch, at others the pay off is something to marvel at, and finally it’s some of the most compelling acting you’ll see all year. I urge you to seek out this film and watch it. “Whiplash” is a wonderful and extraordinary masterpiece that the entire world should see.

scott kurlandComment