If you, like most people, consider action in a movie to mean explosions, gun fights, kung fu and car chases, then I urge you to allow your horizons to be broadened by going to see Whiplash. The movie is packed with bursts of action of the most unconventional kind; the pounding beat of drums, the blaring of saxophones and the piercing sound of trumpets, all set to a jazz score and pulsating tempo. Whiplash is anything but an action movie, but its one of the most energetic and frantic films of the year.
Andrew Neiman is a bit of an outsider in his first year of college. He doesn’t have friends, he has a fractious relationship with his classmates and his dad seems to be the only person in his life he is willing to share time with. Andrew wants to be a great drummer, to be remembered as one of the best, and so it is he makes sure to catch the eye of Terence Fletcher, a brutal, foul-mouthed music teacher, famous for getting the best out of students. The movie is a study of the relationship that develops between the pair, and the lengths that a person will go to for success.
Miles Teller, proving himself one of the most diverse actors of his generation, delivers a powerful and emotionally charged performance as Andrew, and while Whiplash is his story, the star of the show is JK Simmons’ Mr.Fletcher. Much lauded since the movie debuted last year at various film festivals, Simmons investment in the character is beginning to pay dividends, with a Golden Globe freshly acquired and the Oscar firmly in his sights. Fletcher is a hulking, unflinching and seemingly uncaring brute of a man, at once charismatic and intimidating and not a man whose methods are to be questioned. In trying to get the best from his students, and in particular Neiman, there is no line that he won’t cross and Simmon’s dedication to the role is mesmerizing.
Director Damien Chazelle, whose early life the movie is sort of based on, handles the whole picture with a surety and confidence that spills over in particular into the music scenes. The camera whips around the stage, never staying still long enough for you to get bored of what is essentially just a jazz band, leaving you dizzy and tense as the stakes are continuously raised. Beautifully framed and flawlessly paced, the film ebbs and flows from one scene to the next, balancing the escalating drive in Neiman with how it affects everyone around him, and the mounting tension that drive creates with his teacher.
The film is a marvellous accomplishment. A career best performance from Simmons and a frenzied finale that will leave you breathless, exhilarated, elated and spent, Whiplash is a tour de force in indie filmmaking, and, barely halfway though the first month of the year, we may have already seen the best movie of 2015.
(Images courtesy – Sony, Collider, Empire, Tumblr)