Film Review: Whiplash

Miles Teller in Whiplash

Andrew Neimann (Miles Teller) is a promising young drummer who enrolls at a cut-throat music conservatory where his dreams of greatness are mentored by Terrence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), an instructor who will stop at nothing to realise a student’s potential.

One of the key pieces of music in Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash is entitled ‘Caravan’, an exhausting jazz composition made up of breathless assaults of percussion punctuated by quieter moments leading to roaring crescendos that just leave you feeling worn out by the end. That’s Whiplash in a nutshell.

From the moment we fade in we’re bombarded with machine gunning drum solos from the clearly talented Andrew Neimann, and we’re also straight away introduced to the man who’s going to test Neimann both physically and mentally to his absolute limits.

Simmons is hugely intimidating, from the way he holds himself to the unflinching delivery and enunciation of every bile-spewing syllable.

The relationship between Neimann and orchestra conductor Terrence Fletcher is at the very centre of Whiplash and it’s an absolutely fascinating one. Foul-mouthed Fletcher is absolutely terrifying as he channels Full Metal Jacket’s Gunnery Sargeant Hartman in berating Neimann and his bandmates, and yet it’s hard to completely dislike him.

Whether he’s high-fiving a friend’s young daughter or playing piano in a jazz bar, there are glimpses of a softer side that keep him human, but there are also questions as to whether his unorthodox methods of motivation are actually warranted. Is it right to push someone so far if it gets results? Do the means justify the ends? It might not be as black and white as it first seems.

J.K Simmons and Miles Teller in Whiplash

Both Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons are superb here. Teller’s physical performance is hugely impressive as he hammers away at the drum kit, whilst Simmons is hugely intimidating, from the way he holds himself to the unflinching delivery and enunciation of every bile-spewing syllable.

Others characters are largely window dressing and are of little to no consequence, which is one of the film’s few missteps. Neimann’s fleeting relationship with cinema worker Nicole (Melissa Benoist) is the worst offender, her character reduced to nothing more than a plot device by which to illustrate Neimann’s dedication to his drumming. Integrating the supporting characters into the story a little more could have added some depth.

A vital part of Whiplash’s effectiveness is down to Tom Cross’s quite wonderful editing; the frenetic cuts dictating the pace of the film and perfectly mirroring the aggression and tempo of not just the drumming but also Neimann and Fletcher’s dynamic with each other.

Whiplash’s premise is an incredibly simple one but its delivery is absolutely exceptional. It’s somewhat bare bones in terms of plot, but just watching Teller and Simmons butt heads so brutally is captivating and makes for a truly breathtaking experience. Very much my tempo.

Pros

  • Fantastic performances from Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons
  • Brilliant editing helps dictate the pace of the film
  • Breathless drumming scenes

Cons

  • Weak supporting roles

4 and a half pigeons

4.5/5 pigeons

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19 thoughts on “Film Review: Whiplash

  1. le0pard13 says:

    One of my favorites of 2014, for sure.

  2. ianthecool says:

    Hey I just watched this movie this week as well. I hope to do a review soon. But yeah, its pretty awesome. I didn’t find that the supporting characters were that big a deal, because they’re very much on the periphery.
    Great movie.

  3. Great review, man. I feel in love with this one. Best of 2014 for me.

  4. Tom says:

    Overjoyed to see you back writing Chris. This film also kind of missed the mark in terms of side characters, and at the end of the day all this was was an exercise in showing how motivation can either be a demon or an angel. But still, there are few films out there that evoke such intensity. For a movie about jazz drumming, this is seriously palm-sweating stuff.

    • Thanks very much mate, glad I could find the time to get something down! It really is amazing how a film about jazz drumming is so intense! It’s a great little look at whether you can push someone too far or if it can be justified if it works in the end.

      • Tom says:

        It was excellent seeing Simmons receiving the award for Best Supporting Actor. It really couldn’t have gone to anyone else.

  5. Laura says:

    Great stuff, I really liked this one. I stumbled out of the cinema in a daze!

  6. Hey mate, good to see you back. I’m finding it difficult to get the time to blog myself at the moment. Great read though of a film Iove as much as you mate. Simmons is out of this world.

    • Hey mate, yeah it was good to finally get some written. Still struggling to find the time but hoping to at least get a few more things done. Glad to hear we’re on the same page with this one, absolutely loved it.

  7. Stu says:

    Good to see a new post Chris. Very much my tempo too! I think this is one of the films I’ve enjoyed the most this year so far, will be high up in my top 10 I think.

  8. Mr Rumsey says:

    Hey Chris, it’s been quite some time since I was last here so I apologise! Very glad to see that you also were somewhat blown away by Whiplash, I think it’s a future classic.

  9. Krunal says:

    I agree with you on the editing part, it is certainly top notch. Also the cinematography is amazing, it kind of gives the characters their position in the frame making them stronger or vulnerable. I believe this is a very meticulously planned film and hence such fantastic results.

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