Whiplash lays out the line of passion and obsession then blatantly walks over it again and again throughout the film. Focusing on Andrew Neyman’s (Miles Teller) goal to rise to the top of Jazz music, the viewer gets an up close, and all too real view of blood, sweat, and tears shed for goals. Pair that with instructor Terence Fletcher’s (J.K. Simmons) demand for excellence, and you witness the effects when two unstoppable forces collide head on.
Neyman is a Jazz student at the prestigious Shaffer Conservatory in New York. Handpicked by the respected and feared Fletcher, he excitedly shows off his skills at drummer. This quickly sours when Neyman can’t seem to meet Fletcher’s demanding standards for the jazz piece known as Whiplash. After getting over the initial shock of his instructor’s distaste, Neyman seems to feed off of Fletcher’s wrath and demanding pressure. This leads to dropped relationships, awkward family dinners, and Neyman sleeping in the drummers’ room as he works endlessly to crawl to top bracket. Along the way, audiences witness time and time again how easy it is to slip from Fletcher’s favour, and out of the race for musical greatness.
Fletcher’s homophobic insults, psychological torture, and absolute rage are shocking. The level of intensity is a ten the whole movie, and viewers will be amazed just how constant it is. It never wavers; nothing ever cracks Fletcher and gives a glimpse of a softer man. Even the finale shows a man driven completely by creating and driving excellence. Actor Simmons was informed by director Damien Chazelle, “I want you to take it past what you think the normal limit would be.” Many of the students in the film are played by real musicians, and the looks of terror are said to be authentic when Fletcher lashes out at students.
All other characters truly are secondary in the movie as Neyman and Fletcher engage in a disturbing slave and master tango, roles switching back and forth sporadically throughout the movie. Even Neyman’s romantic role sputters in, and then out, of the movie, showing the way his passion overshadows all else. Cinematography captures intense scenes where blood covers snare drums and sweat bounces off cymbals. Music also shows frantic paces that demand total control and dedication.
While Whiplash is able to capture emotion and passion, it fails in expressing time. What should be expressed as close to a year in time feels like the blink of an eye, the events in the movie seeming to all take place in one hellish week. Avengers weekend of Ultron seems to last longer than this film. Perhaps because this whole film was shot in 19 days, 14 hours of filming per day, Whiplash seems to take on a tempo faster than the jazz pieces. The movie also fails with Fletcher’s constant use of homophobic insults. It is jarring and shocking the first few times, but before the first act of the movie is done you’re already wondering how many more times someone can insult another for enjoying dick. Fletcher’s rage is fresh throughout the movie, but is tainted by the common place insults.
All in all, Whiplash deserves the praise it has garnered from Sundance and the Academy Awards. It highlights the acting abilities of both Teller and Simmons, and is an excellent showing of director Chazelle’s talent for the intense. If he can continue with the drive, Chazelle is sure to make good on his next film.