Browse all reviews by letter     A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z 0 - 9

USA 2014
Directed by
Damien Chazelle
106 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Chris Thompson
4.5 stars


Synopsis: Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller) is an ambitious young jazz drummer studying at an elite New York music conservatory. When the school’s brilliant and respected teacher, Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), invites Andrew to join the school’s most prestigious jazz band, he thinks he’s on the path towards achieving his goals. With an obsessive determination, Andrew literally practices until his hands bleed, unwilling to settle for anything less than being the best. But he’s completely unprepared for Fletcher’s sadistic teaching style.  

I must admit to being a big fan of the versatile actor J.K. Simmons. Equally at home in roles like the father in Juno or the apoplectic newspaper editor in Sam Raimi’s Spiderman, Simmons dominates this film with a performance that’s close to his frightening portrayal of white supremacist prisoner, Vernon Schillinger, in the HBO prison drama, Oz.  Terence Fletcher is charismatic and tyrannical in equal measure. Simmons ranges across the screen in a compelling performance that could easily be the single engine of the film if it weren’t so well matched by Teller’s obsessively ambitious Neyman.  Together, they make for an explosive cocktail in a film so finely crafted that it easily accommodates the scale of their performances. Of course, in a story about a gifted drummer, it doesn’t hurt that Teller can really play (is he a drummer who can act, or an actor who can play the drums?). That bit of serendipity (or good casting) aside, this is a great film in all departments, from director Chazelle’s uncompromising screenplay to Sharone Meir’s crisp and close cinematography to Tom Cross’ sharp editing. (Made for $3million it was a surprise hit, taking $33m at the box office and winning Oscars for Best Film Editing, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Supporting Actor for Simmons, as well as nominations for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture.

Most importantly, though, the film manages to avoid almost all of the clichés and well-worn paths that can come with a story set in a performing arts school.  Every time it feels like we’re approaching a warm and fuzzy moment, the story takes an unexpected twist that catches us by surprise and takes us in another direction. Far from being just another celebratory film about young hopefuls like Fame, Whiplash takes a much harder-edged view of the creative process and, as a result, is an often disturbing but consistently fascinating examination of two extreme personalities, neither of who seem to have any limits or even morals when it comes to achieving what they want. For the young drummer, his determination is fuelled, to some extent, by a father (nicely underplayed by Paul Reiser) who never achieved his own ambitions to be a writer, and a wider family who are much more interested in the sporting achievements of Andrew’s cousins than are in how he’s doing at music school. It’s easy to feel sympathy for him but, to the film’s (and Simmons’) credit, there is also sympathy to be found for Fletcher.

What I really liked about this film, apart from the great renditions of jazz classics like "Caravan" and the eponymous "Whiplash", is that I fear it might be saying something quite dangerous about what’s acceptable in training talent at the elite level, mostly from the viewpoint of teaching but also from the viewpoint of learning. It’s a morally ambiguous film that doesn’t offer us any easy solutions to the difficult questions it raises about what it takes to turn good talent into greatness.

To be honest, I’m not even resolved as to what I think about where the film leaves us, but what I do know is that I can’t wait for more people to see this film so that we can have those discussions.




Want more about this film?

search youtube  search wikipedia  

Want something different?

random vintage best worst