Have you ever been watching a movie and thought that in the same situation you would have just given up? That’s pretty much how I felt all through out Whiplash. Going into this movie, I knew it was going to be great, but I didn’t really know what it was going to be about, and after watching it I’m still trying to figure out what it all means. The bottom line, however, is that it’s giving Birdman a run for its money as my favorite movie of 2014.
Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) is a nineteen year old jazz drummer studying at the Shaffer Conservatory in New York. His entire life is built around drumming and what he can do to perfect his skill and be remembered as one of the greats. This dream seems to be underway when he is accepted to join a prestigious school band led by Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), a teacher who will do whatever it takes to push his students to perform at the best of their abilities. What Neiman soon learns is that Fletcher’s motivations takes the form of physical, verbal, and psychological abuse and punishment, which leaves Neiman wondering how far is too far and if this dream is even worth the punishment.
Writing a summary for Whiplash is very hard because there is so much happening beneath the surface of the story that’s really important and made me want to include, but I could really go on all day about how great and deep this movie is. It would be easy to have made a movie about a kid following his dreams to be an excellent jazz drummer, but writer/director Damien Chazelle went for a much more complicated approach. This is a movie about jazz and dreams, but it’s also a movie the explores complex human emotions and psychological warfare. If that wasn’t enough, Chazelle also created one of the greatest onscreen character relationships of all time between Neiman and Fletcher. Love/hate isn’t really what I’d call it. In fact, I’m still trying to completely wrap my head around it.
This movie is being recognized in many ways as one of the best movies of 2014, garnering 5 Oscar nominations, but I just want to briefly mention the editing and Simmons’ performance. The editing in this movie can be so rapid fire and rhythmic, I really just wanted to look at the timeline the editor was using. As Neiman’s drums roar and saxophones burst with melodies, the editing matches it all, capturing Chazelle’s beautiful camerawork at the same time, but also capturing Fletcher’s rage. Simmons has always been known to be a good actor, but now it’s established that he’s fantastic. His performance as Fletcher is one of, if not the best performance of the entire year. One minute you hate him, and the next you begin to understand him. He’s such a complex character and Simmons managed to pull it off so perfectly.
What’s incredible about Whiplash is how intense it is. I never thought that a movie that takes place in a music school could be so insane. A lot of people have been comparing this movie to the beginning of Full Metal Jacket, and I do see where they’re coming from, but Whiplash managed to sustain that level of intensity without ever firing a shot and taking place not in the military, but a music school. Everything comes together so well that it creates a story unlike anything you or I have seen before.
Whiplash is plain and simply one of my favorite movies of the year. I knew that I was in for something great but this was just awesome. The music, the performances, the editing, and the nail biting, gut wrenching, butt clenching intensity were all note perfect, pun intended. It kind of shares the same themes as Black Swan, in the sense that you have to wonder how far people can go with what they love before it completely destroys them. It’s an interesting look at the fragility of the human psyche and also one of the best film of 2014.