October 22nd 2014 05:11
A young drummer’s time at an esteemed music conservatory turns into a psychological battle of wills when the establishment’s most notorious and distinguished figure becomes an adversary. Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller) wants to exceed the ordinary dreams of a promising musician. He aims for true greatness and under the tutelage of Terence Fletcher (J.K.Simmons) he just might get there. The only problem is that Fletcher is a brutal taskmaster who wouldn’t be inappropriately employed as a drill sergeant. He takes no prisoners and demands nothing less than perfection. When he selects Andrew to join his elite class it’s either a precious gift and first step to fulfilling his aspirations or the opening line of a gag in which Andrew’s fall from grace - and malicious shattering of his delusions - will be the punch line.
Director Damien Chazelle’s screenplay - an extension of his original short film - sizzles with Fletcher’s venomous irritation and Andrew’s frustration at falling short of his own and Fletcher’s expectations. In what will surely be the defining performance of Simmons’ career, the much loved character actor transforms himself into a figure of extreme intimidation. Fletcher mostly seems like a grossly inflated caricature yet key moments do humanise him. His presence creates waves every time he walks in the room and Chazelle’s rendering of his hard-edged bullying means we often experience moments of genuine anticipatory dread for his young student when the two antagonists intersect. Teller too is phenomenal, laying bare both Andrew’s vulnerability and tortured need to reach unfathomable heights of musical execution.
Whiplash (2014) is an electrifying, riveting drama that sustains its intense pitch from first frame to last. Riding roughshod over any dubious turns in the road, the stunning performances and conviction of Chazelle’s screenplay assure us of a certain reality even if gaps in the narrative are a little too common and convenient. The music is wonderful, the central piece, Hank Levy’s ‘Whiplash’, a perfect embodiment of the film’s multifaceted dexterity, whilst the drumming regularly reaches dizzying heights. Chazelle’s second feature, shot in just 19 days, is a spectacular calling card. He turns the potential mundaneness of his central ideas into something boldly cinematic that bristles with an emotional and often staggering visceral power and the final result is one of the finest films of the year.
Whiplash opens in Australian cinemas on Thursday, October 23.