Film Review: Whiplash
Drummers are the butt of the joke. They sit at the back of the stage, hidden behind a construction of instruments making a cacophony of noise. But the drum beating, symbol smashers take centre stage in Damien Chazelle's engaging and intense Whiplash. The film centres around Miles Teller's Andrew, a quiet, reserved drummer at the best music college in the country, Shaffer Conservatory. Andrew has one dream, to be one of the greats and seems prepared to do pretty much anything to succeed.. He spends his spare time listening to Buddy Rich, playing drums til he bleeds and going to the cinema with his dad. But once J.K. Simmons' terrifying Fletcher takes a shine to the young student, Andrew's life is turned into an argeous and tiring struggle to please his difficult mentor.
The central relationship between Andrew and Fletcher, plays out like an abusive marriage. Fletcher verbally and psychically abuses the young drummer but Andrew can't seem to escape him, he is always drawn back for more. The film is so concentrated on the two central characters that the supporting cast get very little to do. Melissa Benoist stars as Andrew's short lived girlfriend who gets the boot once he realises she will only serve as a distraction to his dream, although . Andrew's dad pops up here and there but is never fleshed out and that's pretty much it, bar two rival drummers who Fletcher uses as instruments to challenge and push Andrew to practice harder.
J.K. Simmons' Fletcher is a force to be reckoned with. Imagine Full Metal Jacket's Gunnery Sergeant Hartman and you are somewhere close to the maniacal, power obsessed conductor. Simmons attacks the role with velocity and power, spitting every hilarious insult with conviction. While he is given the less meatier role, Miles Teller manages to go toe-to-toe with Simmons. Teller isn't your typical Hollywood leading man, lacking old fashioned actor good looks, evident when he is paired with rival drummer Ryan, who looks like he should be on the football pitch rather than sat behind a drum kit. But Teller pulls off a devoted performance that attempts to explore the character's headstrong, if sometimes misguided, quest for greatness.
The film's biggest flaw is it fails to provide you with characters you can emotionally invest in, everyone feels cold and distant. When we first meet Andrew it feels as if he deserves our emotional investment. His lonely, sullen and an outcast. Yet he has something of Jesse Eisenberg's Mark Zuckerberg about him. As we get to know him more it's clear that he is not the hero of piece, his blind ambition drives away his girlfriend and alienates him from the world and his father struggles to understand why his son allows to himself to be treated this way.
Flectcher believes that the worse two words in the world are 'good job' and for the first two acts that is what Chazelle's film achieves. And while it's not a masterpiece, it's finale sets you up for something you're not prepared for. The last ten minutes of the film are a tour de force of film-making, every bead of sweat is painstakingly caught on camera. It's reminiscent of the dying seconds of a sports film, it's nail biting, edge of you seat cinema. What is more amazing is it all comes from one guy, two sticks and a drum kit.