‘Whiplash’ leaves it all out on drum set



‘Whiplash’ leaves it all out on drum set

By Josh Weitzel Film Critic

Passionate artists will do whatever it takes to perfect their craft and be the best at what they do. But while they will be motivated to push themselves, what happens when artists are pushed past their limits and the physical and emotional tolls become too great to move forward? In his second film, “Whiplash,” writer and director Damien Chazelle explores where these boundaries lie in the story of an aspiring jazz musician, and the result is a thrilling film about the exploration of ambition. 

Andrew (Miles Teller) is a young jazz drummer who dreams of being one of the greats. He attends one of the most prestigious music conservatories in the country and soon finds himself in the conservatory’s top jazz band, led by a perfectionist director Fletcher (J.K. Simmons).Fletcher continuously pushes Andrew to go beyond what is expected of him, going so far as to berate and even physically abuse his students to force their best performances out of them. Andrew’s life begins to fall apart as he struggles to prove to Fletcher and himself that he is capable of being a great artist.

Simmons, known for smaller roles in films such as “Spider-Man” and “Juno,” gives a riveting performance as Fletcher. Simmons imbues the character with a ferocious presence on screen. Watching him tear down his own students is both exciting and frightening. He is a master of mind games, repeatedly luring Andrew into a false sense of security before tearing him to pieces. There is a deep fire and passion behind Fletcher’s eyes, and it is difficult to imagine anyone else in the same role. 

Although Fletcher’s demanding teaching methods are a bit extreme, they prove effective. He insists on nothing short of perfection and is not afraid to throw a chair when annoyed or slap Andrew to keep him from rushing the tempo. Fletcher’s philosophy is based on one of his lines in the film: “There are no two words in the English language more harmful than ‘good job.’” He sticks to his principles. 

Teller, who had his breakout role as Sutter in the 2013 film “The Spectacular Now,” puts his heart and soul into Andrew. While socially awkward, he is never unsure of himself or his goals. Teller did all the drumming in the film himself, sometimes sweating and bleeding onto the drum set. When Fletcher demands more sweat and blood, Andrew gives more. He sacrifices his relatives, sanity and health, putting all of his time into practicing until he is forced to plunge his bloody, aching hands into a bowl of ice water. 

The editing and cinematography are just as impressive as the performances, working in tandem to match the musical tempo of each scene. The pace goes from quiet and dramatic moments to the intense jazz-filled performances. Scenes begin with wide shots that gradually move closer to the actors and the instruments. The energetic drumming is complemented by fast cuts between the characters and other musicians, which masks any imperfections in the actor’s instrumental performances. 

The movie’s comedic elements balance out its intensity. Fletcher is a master of insults and has no problem throwing one out after another at anyone who rubs him the wrong way. On the first time he makes Andrew cry, he calmly asks, “Are you one of those single-tear people?” It is sometimes a bit difficult not to laugh when Fletcher is being verbally abusive to his students. 

“Whiplash” is a film that will keep the audience on the edge for the entire 106-minute duration. With Simmons and Teller’s exquisite chemistry, “Whiplash” will undoubtedly be turning heads of musicians and filmgoers alike.