This film is receiving quite a lot of Oscars buzz, and rightly so. Directed by Damien Gizelle, Whiplash (2014) is a fast paced example of the perfect cinematic mix between excitement and frustration. Whiplash tells the story of Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller), who has dreams of becoming the best drummer in the world. One day at college, he is practicing his drums and is noticed by the most infamous teacher at his college, Terence Fletcher (J. K. Simmons); whose perfectionism and skill as a conductor is overshadowed by his violent methods of motivating his band. What follows is an impeccably illustrated and impressively acted tale of obsession and pain.
Here are the Oscars that Whiplash has been nominated for: Best Actor in a Supporting Role (for J. K. Simmons), Best Film Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Writing for an Adapted Screenplay, and last but not least, Best Picture. Funnily enough, all of these categories are my favourite things about this film.
J. K. Simmons is one of my favourite actors. I don’t really think about him much, but whatever he’s in, I’m guaranteed to enjoy. I particularly loved him in the HBO prison drama television show Oz (1997-2003); his scary performance as the neo-Nazi Vernon Schillinger still freaks me out to this day. In a way, his performance as Terence Fletcher in this reminded me of his performance in Oz – raw, overtly aggressive, manipulative, and above all, totally watchable. J. K. Simmons surprises me with every one of his performances, and this is no exception. The ‘twist’ at the end seems so simple, but it’s Simmons’ communication of it that will have your jaw dropping to the floor. As for Miles Teller, he was never really on my radar, but he is amazing in this. He exudes the perfect combination between borderline pathological focus and obsession, and mildly anti-social behaviour. Teller and Simmons interact with one another flawlessly and each of their conflictual moments was so tense.
I love jazz music and I think this film visually represented the genre so well. Each time a big band is playing a song (such as the titular ‘Whiplash’, composed by Hank Levy, which I now can’t stop listening to) the editing is so ridiculously perfect it’s not even funny. The music is brought to life on screen through quick cuts, focusing on the pure concentration on the musicians’ faces, cutting in tune with music and sweeping shots that allow the viewer to take in the whole experience of playing in a jazz band. Meanwhile, the sound editing is also so great, with an emphasis on the rhythm of Neiman’s drums and the brass tones of the jazz band in which he plays. Both the film and sound editing is perfect in every scene and I can’t find one fault with either. Creatively, this film is perfectly expressive, with direction that also matches the tone of the music and the tension in each scene. The editing is probably one of my favourite things about it.
Meanwhile, the script is stellar. J. K. Simmons’ dialogue is particularly strong, and the perfect balance between hilarious and awkwardly horrible. I genuinely loved every scene he was in, because you never knew what kind of amazing profanity would erupt forth from his face, some of which was so funny (even though it would technically constitute verbal abuse). The way the story flows and develops is great. The film takes its time, and although it isn’t the most temporally sweeping of tales, what it does tell you about the short span of time in which the events occur is packaged up perfectly. The conflict of the story is almost deceptively simple, and that’s what’s great about it – due to Fletcher’s manipulative and abusive nature, you’ll be second guessing his actions long after the film has finished. This is such a great film to discuss with fellow moviegoers because everyone will have a different opinion on his actions.
I really, really loved Whiplash. I quite like watching films that make you feel uncomfortable and tense, and that is exactly where this film succeeds – the tension that it creates is almost unbearable at times, causing a visceral reaction that so many other films try and fail to do. J. K. Simmons puts in an electric and truly scary performance as Terence Fletcher, whereas Miles Teller is also so great and now a face that I’ll be watching out for. If you’ve ever performed in a band or choir with an obsessive conductor or teacher (which I have), this will be a really awkward and uncomfortable viewing experience. But the story is too good, the performances are amazing, and the creative elements are perfect every time. Fingers crossed that this one wins a bunch of awards because it is truly deserving, and it’s well worth paying for a ticket to see on the big screen.
Is it worth paying for a ticket?: YES.
Watch the trailer here.