The triumph that is Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash, a muted psychological thriller/coming-of-age drama masquerading as a movie about musicians (try and say that five times fast), tells the story of drumstick-wielding protagonist Andrew, as he’s more often than not pitted against his horrifying new mentor during his struggle to be recognised for his talent.
The promising and excellent Miles Teller stars alongside J K Simmons as the immense and terrifying Fletcher, the man who will make you realise you have a deep-seated fear of music teachers.
It’s hard to pin down what the true crowning glory of this movie is. It might be the remarkable way in which Chazelle builds tension and fear for the viewer, as if the audience is watching some high octane action movie car chase rather than watching a student at a music conservatory play a drum solo. It might be the quick wit of the script, taking us through not only the apparently traumatic ordeal that is playing in a prestigious jazz band, but also through the subtle tensions and digs of a family dinner, all the while developing character with such aplomb that all their craziness seems almost normal. It might even just be the shock value of seeing Simmons’ indomitable presence command the attention and fear of not only Fletcher’s jazz band, but also the viewers themselves.
What is most surprising about Whiplash is not Fletcher’s violent outbursts, but rather Simmons’ portrayal of the brief but wonderful tenderness embedded deep within Fletcher’s character. Downplayed against the backdrop of Fletcher’s crassness and quick temper, is this depth to the character, shown almost in brief snapshots; for instance, the short glimpse of a tears on his face as he lovingly plays a piano in a tiny jazz club. In any other movie with any other character played by any other actor it might have been cheesy, but with the vindictive and violent Fletcher, this arguably tired image gets injected with a fresh dose of authenticity, and viewers are presented with the idea of Fletcher, not as the cruel task master, but rather as the man.
It is with all of these grand achievements that Whiplash becomes not just a movie about a drummer and his mean teacher, but rather becomes a story that is truly brutal as it asks us what it really means to want something too much.
Whiplash is released nationwide on 16th January 2015.
Watch the trailer for Whiplash here: