22 January 2015

Whiplash review

Based on a short-film of the same name (which in turn was based on the original screenplay for this film), Whiplash follows aspiring jazz drummer Andrew Neiman and his time in the Shaffer Conservatory of Music, a prestigious music school in New York, as he joins the schools jazz band under the supervision of Terence Fletcher, the infamously short tempered and volatile band master.

The relationship between Andrew and Terence is the main focus of Whiplash, and is simply riveting. Terence is emotionally manipulative, abusive and genuinely intimidating, and J.K Simmons plays the role perfectly, never quite allowing his character to become the moustache twirling villain of the story, something that easily could have happened given the events of the film and the way he constantly tortures Andrew. He's a force of nature, a howling wind that through sheer power and persistence will turn Andrews slab of marble into a beautiful statue, or crumble him in the process. It's a fantastic performance, certainly worthy of the Best Supporting Actor nomination that J.K Simmons has earned based on this film.

I haven't seen Miles Teller in much before now, but I more than a little impressed by his performance in this film. It is his character and the way he reacts to the terrifying Terence Fletcher that drives the film forwards, and without him playing Andrew so well, it would have been much harder to remain emotionally invested in the film. And it's not only his character that you buy into - by the end of the film, I was fully able to believe that he was one of the best jazz drummers in the world, and I've only found out since that Miles Teller was actually playing the drums, albeit in shorter segments that were then expertly edited together.

The scenes between Terence and Andrew crackle with an intensity that is unmatched, the two of them bristling against each other despite the obvious disparity in the balance of power between them. Watching Andrew become a better drummer as he is pushed up to and beyond his limits is fascinating and, in a weird way, very inspiring. Whiplash makes you wonder what you could achieve if you had a mentor as determined as Terence Fletcher, while at the same time making you incredibly thankful that you don't.

It's hard to criticise a film that is this well made on every level. Other than a small lull in the film towards the start of the second act, there isn't ever a dull moment or a wasted scene, a pretty incredible feat of film making when you consider that the majority of the running time is spent watching someone practising the drums. In fact, this is the only element of the film I could see someone having a problem with - there is an awful lot of drumming involved, both when Andrew is practising and when he is performing, but you don't have to be an expert or have any interest in jazz drumming to appreciate what is happening thanks to how well shot and edited these sections are, and how good everything sounds.

Whiplash is an intense, entertaining and extremely well paced film with a strong sense of direction and some excellent editing, accompanied by a great soundtrack and some stunningly stylish cinematography, very much deserving of the overwhelmingly positive praise that it has seen since it's release. It's most certainly a film that both deserves and earns your attention, and you'd have to be a fool to miss what could well end up being one of the best films released this year.

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