Andrew Neimann (Miles Teller) is a promising young drummer who enrolls at a cut-throat music conservatory where his dreams of greatness are mentored by Terrence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), an instructor who will stop at nothing to realise a student’s potential.
One of the key pieces of music in Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash is entitled ‘Caravan’, an exhausting jazz composition made up of breathless assaults of percussion punctuated by quieter moments leading to roaring crescendos that just leave you feeling worn out by the end. That’s Whiplash in a nutshell.
From the moment we fade in we’re bombarded with machine gunning drum solos from the clearly talented Andrew Neimann, and we’re also straight away introduced to the man who’s going to test Neimann both physically and mentally to his absolute limits.
Simmons is hugely intimidating, from the way he holds himself to the unflinching delivery and enunciation of every bile-spewing syllable.
The relationship between Neimann and orchestra conductor Terrence Fletcher is at the very centre of Whiplash and it’s an absolutely fascinating one. Foul-mouthed Fletcher is absolutely terrifying as he channels Full Metal Jacket’s Gunnery Sargeant Hartman in berating Neimann and his bandmates, and yet it’s hard to completely dislike him.
Whether he’s high-fiving a friend’s young daughter or playing piano in a jazz bar, there are glimpses of a softer side that keep him human, but there are also questions as to whether his unorthodox methods of motivation are actually warranted. Is it right to push someone so far if it gets results? Do the means justify the ends? It might not be as black and white as it first seems.
Both Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons are superb here. Teller’s physical performance is hugely impressive as he hammers away at the drum kit, whilst Simmons is hugely intimidating, from the way he holds himself to the unflinching delivery and enunciation of every bile-spewing syllable.
Others characters are largely window dressing and are of little to no consequence, which is one of the film’s few missteps. Neimann’s fleeting relationship with cinema worker Nicole (Melissa Benoist) is the worst offender, her character reduced to nothing more than a plot device by which to illustrate Neimann’s dedication to his drumming. Integrating the supporting characters into the story a little more could have added some depth.
A vital part of Whiplash’s effectiveness is down to Tom Cross’s quite wonderful editing; the frenetic cuts dictating the pace of the film and perfectly mirroring the aggression and tempo of not just the drumming but also Neimann and Fletcher’s dynamic with each other.
Whiplash’s premise is an incredibly simple one but its delivery is absolutely exceptional. It’s somewhat bare bones in terms of plot, but just watching Teller and Simmons butt heads so brutally is captivating and makes for a truly breathtaking experience. Very much my tempo.
- Fantastic performances from Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons
- Brilliant editing helps dictate the pace of the film
- Breathless drumming scenes
- Weak supporting roles