REVIEW: Whiplash | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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fourDirector: Damien Chazelle

Starring: Miles Teller, JK Simmons

Run Time: 106 mins

Certificate: 15


Nearly two hours of drumming, screaming and homophobic insults; on paper not the most appealing concept format for a feature length Hollywood film, and yet in the space of 12 months Whiplash has seen itself transform from a short story into one of the surprise packages of the festival and awards season, and certainly from my own viewing of the film it is easy to see why, a pulsating, tight and at times disarming drama which will grip you to your seat and keep you there through every clashing symbol.

The film’s plot revolves around 19 year old Andrew (Miles Teller), a drumming prodigy at a New York music school desperately looking to attract the attention of the fiercely competitive music teacher Trevor Fletcher (JK Simmons), a tyrannical figure who considers the two most damaging words in the English language to be ‘good job’. Under Fletcher’s drill sergeant thumb, Andrew finds himself pushed to his physical and mental limit, succumbing to thrown chairs, aggressive taunting and playing for so long and so hard that his hands begin to bleed. Much more Full Metal Jacket then Fame you can certainly say.

JK Simmons has always been known throughout his career for some great scene stealing performances, yet for Whiplash he pulls off the proverbial Great Train Robbery. His Fletcher character oozes a sinister and masochistic streak, the perfect antagonist channelling every kind of authoritarian schoolyard figure, but yet with a charisma and aura about him that leaves you enamoured by his presence every time that he is on screen without ever crossing the strict line into anti-hero territory. Almost akin to a R. Lee Ermey figure, he is domineering with an appeal largely in how cold and masochistic the character can get at times. Simmons’ performance has rightfully earned strong kudos from Hollywood and of the five Oscar nominations that the film has earned it is Simmons’ best supporting actor award that would be most deserved.

That is not to say however that the rest of the film suffers from any kind of short-comings, far from it in fact. This is a pulsating film that at times wanders from that of the traditional protégé and master setup more akin to that of a sports movie but with the psychological trauma and tension comparative to that of Black Swan, another film which, like Whiplash, managed to take the traditionally sedate world of the art house and turn it into a physically and mentally draining bloodshed. The tension is reflected brilliantly also through the direction of sophomore director Damien Chazelle. Himself a part time drummer, Chazelle has managed to encapsulate this brilliantly on screen with clever cinematography and a real feeling of physical anguish that manages to completely change the view of a musical figure in the drummer often seen quite derogatorily within the music industry.


JK Simmons has always been known throughout his career for some great scene stealing performances, yet for Whiplash he pulls off the proverbial Great Train Robbery

That isn’t to say, however, that the film is without flaws. Whilst Miles Teller’s Andrew is impressive enough in the battle between pupil and master I was left feeling at times that the sympathy we as an audience felt for his ordeal was less through his own merits and more through his role as a plot device, and that the moments of personification that the character did have either fell flat or were within the context of the film relatively pointless, the subplot revolving around a one-dimensional love interest played by the underused Melissa Benoist being the most prominent example of this.

Whiplash certainly doesn’t match up in terms of stature and star power against some of it’s more established rivals come the awards season, but what the film lacks in those fields it shows what can be done with originality, tension and intelligent film-making, and for that reason alone it is a must watch for any aspiring film-maker. Much like the drum solos throughout this is one that going to stay in your head for a long time to come.

Whiplash is now showing at the Tyneside Cinema.

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