Sunday, 1 March 2015

Whiplash

I really tried hard to find a good opening joke, but I blanked… Anyway, that’s not going to stop me from doing this: Badumm-Tss… You see, because it’s about a drummer…

„Whiplash“ stars Miles Teller and Oscar winner J.K. Simmons and is directed by Damien Chazelle. It follows young and hopeful Jazz drummer Andrew Neiman (Teller) as he tries to become the best at what he does. He comes closer to this dream when prestigious teacher and conductor Fletcher sees him play and decides to make him part of his studio band. Only when Andrew is at his first rehearsal does it become clear that Fletcher is not only very strict but also a violent and abusive teacher. But Andrew is determined not to give up and to impress Fletcher.

All bad jokes aside, I’ve played in a Jazz band for a short time and my conductor was a nice person. However, it is a huge part of a conductor’s job to tell you when you are doing something wrong. There’s not many things that are more embarrassing than being the one guy who messed it up and being singled out for it. And that’s all without chairs being thrown around. So the relationship between Andrew and Fletcher is a very interesting one.

Andrew as portrayed by Miles Teller, who is brilliant by the way, is single-minded. He wants to be one of the great Jazz drummers of his time and he puts all his energy into that. He practices alone after everyone else has left and he doesn’t have time for friends. He is not liked by anyone in the conservatory he is attending and his family doesn’t seem to grasp exactly how good he is at the drums. The longer the film goes on, we find ourselves in the same spot his father is, wondering whether we want him to proceed, because he clearly isn’t putting his own happiness first. And this is where Fletcher comes in. His philosophy is that if he is able to stop you from being great through abuse and strictness, then you weren’t great to begin with. He is the obstacle that Andrew has to overcome and in the end the question remains whether Fletcher was actually trying to help him succeed or if he was his enemy all along.

The film relies heavily on Simmons and Teller, to the extent that Miles Teller is in every single scene and the fourth billed supporting cast member, Melissa Benoist, has four scenes in the whole movie. Both actors give an incredible performance, Miles Teller did all his own drumming, which is pretty amazing, because this is not simple stuff. It surely helps that he started drumming about ten years ago, but unless he already played Jazz, I’m thinking the extra lessons he got were certainly necessary. Simmons also gets to stretch his fingers a little bit on the piano, but most of his time is spent creating a character where you can never really be sure whether he is the devil or just an extreme version of Burgess Meredith’s Mickey from the “Rocky” franchise.

If so far you’re thinking, well this sounds all very nice, but Jazz? Somehow doesn’t scream conflict now, does it. Believe me, this film will prove you wrong. I watched it a week ago and I still randomly launch into an acappella version of the song Whiplash from time to time. This movie will have you on the edge of your seat more than most blockbusters have lately. That is mostly due to the two incredible performances, but also because of the tight editing, which also got an Academy Award by the way.


All in all, I fully expect “Whiplash” to show up in my Top Ten list at the end of this year, and we still have ten months to go. It is one of the most intense films I’ve watched and definitely has one of the best showdowns ever put to film.

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