Director: Damien Chazelle
“The pouring sweat, dripping blood, and relentless emotional battering of Whiplash’s gladiatorial combat takes place in an esteemed New York music academy.” (941, Leigh Singer, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) There was such hype surrounding Whiplash that I eagerly went out and watched the film … and was actually pretty disappointed. There is no denying that the drumming is intense and at times pretty insane but other than that not much really actually happens. It turns out that I like a narrative that actually progresses and has something to say. This doesn’t do that and feels much more like a character study rather than a narrative. The film is wonderfully lit in warm colours which are actually at odds with J. K. Simmons’ performance as Fletcher – he is anything but a warm or nurturing character.
“Though Fletcher convinces Andrew of his warped Darwinism, Chapelle isn’t so easily swayed, laying bare both men’s macho arrogance and power games. He’s rewarded with two standout performances. Simmons’ sadistic Fletcher is a career peak for this consistently fine character actor. He’s matched beat for beat by Teller, regularly performing his own drumming.” (941) J. K. Simmons is one of those actors that you know you’ve seen in loads of films but can’t always place him when asked what he’s been in. There’s not really anything liable about him in this film. It wouldn’t be a far stretch to say that at times his approach towards his students could amount to abuse – a thread picked up in the narrative (such that it is) of the film. He’s a thoroughly unpleasant person and in my opinion the worst sort of teacher there is, but that doesn’t stop his performance from being magnetic.
Miles Teller is quickly rising in my estimation of him. From playing the rather vile Peter in the Divergent series to Mr Fantastic himself, Reed Richards, in the unneeded reboot of the Fantastic Four (Josh Trank, 2015) Teller is fast becoming one of those actors that will capture and hold my attention in anything he is in. There is a scene in this which must have taken some guts to film having read about how he got the noticeable scars on his face so kudos to him for giving it his all. And the fact that he did the vast majority of the drumming himself just makes his performance all the more visceral to watch.
“With a cinematic crescendo, Whiplash exploits jazz drumming the way Raging Bull (1980) did boxing: as an arena to viscerally explore and explode male vanity, insecurity, and obsession.” (941) It may be because I’m a girl, though as a girl I’m loathe to say that, but I just didn’t get this film. Yeah the drumming is incredible but really why go through all that pain, both physical and emotional, for someone who doesn’t respect you. In the end, for me, it just didn’t live up to the hype, sadly.