Directed by Damien Chazelle.
Cast: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Paul Reiser, Melissa Benoist, Austin Stowell, Nate Lang, Chris Mulkey, Suanne Spoke, Damon Gupton, Charlie Ian, Jayson Blair.
2014 107 minutes
Rated: (for strong language including sexual references).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, November 26, 2014.
"Whiplash" is intense, brutal and really bloody. Oh, and it's a music drama. Miles Teller (2013's "The Spectacular Now
") gives his astonishing all as Andrew Neyman, a 19-year-old musician attending the prestigious Shaffer Conservatory who is challenged and terrorized in ways he never imagined when new instructor-conductor Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) invites him to be the drum alternate for his jazz band. Fletcher isn't just a hard-ass, but an abusive brute who savagely crosses the line with his students as an extreme means of pushing them to do their best. The mind games and physical and verbal sparring that ensue are as riveting as an uncompromising, first-rate thriller.
Writer-director Damien Chazelle (who previously penned 2014's "Grand Piano
") cuts and thrashes with the cinematic equivalent of a sharpened carving knife, taking Andrew on a harrowing journey toward a passion that could make or literally break him. The musical segments are breathlessly composed, matched by Teller's out-of-body performance that seemingly takes him to the brink of madness as he drums away. As Terence Fletcher, J.K. Simmons (2014's "Men, Women & Children
") is frighteningly, unpredictably acidic, but not merely a one-note monster. There is a method to his character's actions, as misguided as they are, and the layered, back-and-forth power play that occurs between teacher and pupil is something of a triumphif not always believable. In contrast, a subplot involving Andrew and his new girlfriend, Nicole (Melissa Benoist), is severely undernourished, its path so choppy it is as if key scenes are missing between them. Still, the main attraction is Andrew and Terence, as it should be. "Whiplash" is an engrossing, piercing force with which to be reckoned, barreling over reality into operatic theatrics so deliciously over-the-top they border on the surreal.