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WHIPLASH (review)

Review by Caitlyn Thompson
Produced by David Lancaster, Michel Litvak, Jason Blum
Written and Directed by Damien Chazelle
Starring Miles Teller, J. K. Simmons, Melissa Benoist, 
Austin Stowell, Jayson Blair, Kavita Patil, 
Michael Cohen, Kofi Siriboe, Paul Reiser

Whiplash.

Indeed. Exhilarating and provocative, this film hits hard.

It’s a truly visceral experience, tense and exciting.  From the moment the film begins, be aware that there won’t be one relaxing moment.

And it’s incredible.

The plot of this movie is unlike other musical productions, if there is even a plot at all.

No prestigious competition to win, no personal hardship or vendetta that must be overcome or redeemed.

Whiplash is about artistic obsession.

Studying at the most prestigious conservatory in the country, Andrew Neyman (Teller) has a very specific goal – he doesn’t want to be great, he wants to be “one of the greats”, and that distinction is important to note.

The very premise of Whiplash is the cost of greatness.

Picked to perform in the studio band by the most notorious instructor in the school, Terence Fletcher, played with phenomenal verve by J.K. Simmons, Andrew enters into a brutal engagement that pushes his physical and emotional capabilities well beyond their limits.

We all know by now that I have a giant crush on Miles Teller, which has further increased now that I know he is a musician. He plays the drums for the entirety of the film. In recent reviews of his more bro-centric films, I have often referred to the talent he exhibited in his debut role in Rabbit Hole. I’ve been waiting for the sensitive, pained expression he performs so well, shy yet full of emotion.

Here it is.

Teller’s performance is excruciating and beautiful. The actor brings heartbreaking ferocity and maturity to the screen. In brief quiet moments his small smile reveals subtle elation accentuated by his genuine blush. In grotesque moments he exerts himself completely, sweating and bleeding all over his drum kit. And you are right beside him the entire film feeling his anxiety and passion.

Damien Chazelle keeps his camera close for each shot, panning on, in and around the musicians’ faces, instruments, broken blisters, blood, spit, sweat and tears. The intense effect is overwhelming and enthralling. Tom Cross’ editing is something to be admired – he captures every detail of passion and exhaustion. The fast, crisp cuts match perfectly with the musical rhythm of the film; Chazelle and Cross have created a powerful and immersive experience.

Enter J.K. Simmons, as Terence Fletcher, always clad in black and perfectly polished shoes that click and clack on the floor in a steady intimidating rhythm.

His tempo. His tempo. His. Fucking. Tempo.

When his fist clenches you’re held in awful suspension and are completely trapped by his searing blue eyes.

Simmons isn’t Simmons in this role. He is fit and strong in stature, a flawless embodiment of cruelty. His character’s brutal tutelage is grounded in the belief that greatness can only be achieved through critically bludgeoning his students with offensively personal insults and humiliation. Positive reinforcement is a plague for aspiring talent. Fletcher’s cruelty is never meant to be justified or reasoned with, it’s simply a mechanism for motivation.

This is where the film is spectacular and provocative. How far is too far if the end game produces truly historic talent?

There isn’t a happy resolution. There isn’t a problem to be resolved. This movie is displays the degrading progression of stamina and devotion.

Whiplash presents the controversial ethics of maximizing and enhancing talent with oppressively cruel instruction, regardless of consequential emotional and physical decay.

Do we want Fletcher or Neyman to be any different? Is their relationship an apex of sado-masochism where both parties yield sick pleasure for the sake of success, therefore making the incorrigible behavior acceptable?

It’s sick, it’s beautiful, relentless and awe-inspiring.

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