Directed by: Damien Chazelle || Produced by: David Lancaster, Michel Litvak, Helen Estabrook, Jason Blum
Screenplay by: Damien Chazelle || Starring: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Paul Reiser, Melissa Benoist, Austin Stowell
Music by: Justin Hurwitz || Cinematography: Sharone Meir || Edited by: Tom Cross || Country: United States || Language: English
Running Time: 106 minutes
Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash is a film that I wouldn’t have directed any differently if I had had the same talent and opportunity as Chazelle himself. The film takes an extraordinarily simple setup, an aspiring jazz percussionist training to become a professional with/despite the guidance of a hard-ass teacher, and films it with extraordinary energy and efficient tenacity. The end result is one of the most action-packed and bloody critical favorites of the year. Seriously, there’s more blood in this film than both The Winter Soldier (2014) and Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) combined
Something that may surprise film-viewers who’ve never trained extensively in music or any of the fine arts is how aggressive and politically incorrect this “musical-prodigy” coming-of-age tale feels. The stereotype of musicians and fine arts students is that they sit around all day philosophizing and playing pansy-ass tunes in an over-educated collegiate vacuum, as opposed to shedding actual blood, sweat, and tears and dedicating the monstrous amounts of physical sacrifice that’s required to become a master of music. Much of the political incorrectness and aggressive tone of the film stems from J.K. Simmon’s hilarious turn as Terence Fletcher, a tenacious and grueling jazz conductor who is basically the R. Lee Ermey of jazz music. The man more or less becomes a drill instructor for Miles Teller’s protagonist’s prestigious music school, and the way he pushes his students is strangely enthralling — not to mention intimidating — to watch.
Now to be fair to anyone who’s ever watched a sports drama like Remember the Titans (2000) or Friday Night Lights (film 2004, series 2006-2011) or any movie that involves martial arts training (e.g. Kill Bill , The Karate Kid ), the presence of a hard-nosed older mentor is not exactly a new thing. Whiplash’s mentor-student dynamic is only innovative if viewed solely within the musical prodigy/musical drama subcategory, similar to how many “innovative” things done in movies like Iron Man (2008) and The Dark Knight (2008) were considered groundbreaking only with respective to other comic book-movies. That being said, watching Simmons and Teller butt heads repeatedly and push each another to their physical and mental limits is captivating and offers some of the best actor chemistry seen this year. If Simmons doesn’t get a Best Supporting Actor nod at this year’s Oscars, I’m gonna throw a chair at somebody.
My last point of praise for Whiplash has to do with its technical direction and energetic cinematography. The way Chazelle fills the music sequences with such frenzied passion and fast-paced rhythm is exactly how I believe they should have been filmed. The rapid editing and fast cuts throughout every practice rehearsal and stage performance give Whiplash rushes of adrenaline that most Oscar-bait only wish they had. I would not have shot the music in this film any other way, and this movie should be an example for all music video-directors out there.
Whiplash is unlikely to garner many awards save for a Supporting Actor nomination for Simmons and hopefully a nomination or win for Best Editing, but in any case it’s one of the most entertaining and well-directed films of the year. I’m always glad when Oscar buzz (however preliminary it may be) and film festival word-of-mouth follows a movie that actually deserves it, similar to how well received the excellent Birdman (2014) was.
The film as a whole is less a tale of jazz music as it is a story about an antagonistic mentor and a student who matched his intensity. It’s universal contemplation on the extremities of crafting talent and pushing one’s boundaries prompts more questions than it answers, but that open-ended, ambiguous format works well in this narrative and ends at the perfect thematic moment. Through tight editing of a necessarily simple script and outstanding chemistry from a great pair of leads, Damien Chazelle produces one of this year’s most breathless and action-packed features with nary a fist-fight in sight.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: Chazelle’s rapid-fire editing and great cinematography courtesy of Tom Cross and Sharone Meir, respectively, make you feel the groove of the jazz performances as well as the bloody, sweat-drenched physicality of the musicians playing them. Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons portray arguably the greatest chemistry between two costars in 2014.
— However… well, not much to gripe about here; some of the scenes elaborating on Teller’s character’s social life drag a bit and aren’t really that important to the greater story.
—> Whiplash comes HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
? Can people please teach their children that the only way to deal with a hard-ass coach is to either roll your eyes or be a hard-ass back? Cowering in a corner won’t make your kids feel any better or improve their self-esteem…
? Hey, is that Burke (Paul Reiser) from Aliens (1986)?!