31 May 2015

Review: Whiplash

(Dir: Damien Chazelle, 2014)

Synopsis for a film that's going to greatly appeal to me - an intense drama about a jazz drummer's aspiration and fight to be one of the greats. I'll freely admit, Whiplash had me won over before I even saw it. But don't think for a minute that the excessive levels of anticipation brewing on my part clouded my judgement. You've heard the word on the street right? Everyone's saying it. This film has impact. It hits until you're left with hands bloodied from fraying wooden sticks. Pounding like sweat dripping from a body flaying itself to push harder, faster, more savagely, just to keep that double-time swing rhythm going. It's insistent. Impossible to ignore.

It's a character study meaning success hangs, mostly, on the two central performances. Miles Teller's Andrew is arguably a little bit one note, never really fleshed out beyond a little parental back story and a girl introduced to serve but one purpose. But it's that sustained desire to prove himself and be something incredible that pushes him and makes him interesting. To throw in anything else to bulk up his character might just feel too distracting. His relationship with J.K. Simmons' Fletcher is what this is really all about. The jazz heavyweight, the perfectionist, the dominator, the abuser. This is a man seemingly nonchalant about the destruction he leaves in his wake as students line-up for the rare chance to impress him, never knowing what they're really getting themselves in for but unable to find the will to leave either. It's a towering performance made all the better by fleeting moments of humanity which almost come as a curveball and test our sympathies. Simmons is superb and Teller is thoroughly convincing in his pursuit and particularly behind the kit.

But it's musically where everything ultimately coalesces. The focus is of course the drumming and what we see on screen is utterly impressive, but all of the music we hear is brash and sinuous, providing a cadence that flows at a satisfying pace. Without spoiling anything it builds to a crescendo that is gripping, logical and oh so utterly satisfying, whilst also proving that not every piece of music or film needs a coda. In many ways it's a slight film but the volatility bubbling underneath every time Simmons and Teller are on screen together, mixed with the sparklingly barbed dialogue, make it an electrifying experience. Whiplash is most definitely my tempo.

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