Whiplash (Review)

Directed by Damien Chazelle, US, 2014

Whiplash doesn’t fit in with the usual Oscar winner model, but that didn’t stop it from going three for five the other week.  Movies that premiere at Sundance are usually forgotten by award season, and were it not for its five Oscar nominations and three wins, Whiplash probably would have been too.

We would have been worse off for that.  Whiplash isn’t a particularly complex film.  It doesn’t have soaring historical themes and it doesn’t comment on any particular issue of the day. At its core it is a struggle between two people, no more.

It is the story of a music school student, aspiring jazz drummer Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) as he tries desperately to become “one of the greats.”  His entire career path is dependent on gaining the approval of one sadistic conductor, Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons).

Neiman quite literally works his fingers to the bone, but nothing is good enough for Fletcher.  Fletcher is relentless and terrifying.  Even during the spare moments that he appears friendly, he is merely gathering material to utilize in his otherwise endless parade of verbal and emotional abuse.  Anyone who has every had an overbearing teacher, coach, or conductor can certainly relate.

Teller and Simmons pull off epic performances to give the conflict depth and urgency.  Simmons of course won a well deserved Oscar for his role.

The conflict builds to a crescendo that can be best described as a musical war between the two characters.  Anything less would be unworthy of the intensity and suspense built up during the rest of the film.

You might like Whiplash if: You appreciate intense, suspenseful character based dramas.

You might not like Whiplash if: You had a particularly abusive musical conductor, in which case Whiplash may give you nightmares.

(c) 2015 D.G. McCabe