Whiplash is arguably the best film of 2014 for me (narrowly beating Interstellar and Nightcrawler). It is a simple story about the relationship that develops (does not) between a student and his teacher, yet it has all the elements of a compelling thriller.
The film is littered with uncomfortable moments which we wish we never have to face personally nor watch anyone being subjected to, yet we are intrigued when it happens. It’s similar to the reason why people love watching a public display of violence rather than one of friendship and it is this basic human emotion that the film feeds on. The underlying tension is palpable in every frame our two leads share together and the power struggle that ensues is riveting.
Picture a music student who wants to be the best drummer ever and a teacher whose methods to motivate him is to de-motivate him so much that he brings out his best to prove the latter wrong out of anger or shame. This “end justifies the
means” approach adopted by Terrence Fletcher (JK Simmons) to bring the best out of new student, Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller) is what drives the narrative without ever getting too sentimental. As a matter of fact, sentiment is the last thing you’ll find in this film. Fletcher throws everything at Neyman, verbally as well as the kitchen sink, only to have the kid bounce back spectacularly to no applause or praise in return.
It is a monumental feat achieved by director, Damien Chazelle. He has succeeded in crafting a nail biting thriller out of a film based on music in the manner of a sports film. Not a single moment during the film’s 100 minute runtime, did I get a chance to ponder on what I had just witnessed. The pace is brisk and the music is jazz, what more could one ask for? There are twists and turns in the climax too and is so unexpectedly unorthodox, that I feel the director’s approach to the story was “I don’t care whether they like it or not, but that’s what happened”, which is aces in my book. Usually movies like this end with all the positive vibes with sugar on top. Whiplash is anything but that. The last 10 minutes of the film is possibly the best climax for a film I‘ve seen all year long. It is the opposite of the last 10 minutes of Interstellar.
Now, there is no need for me to say this, but JK Simmons is getting an Oscar for his performance here, no doubt about it. His portrayal of Fletcher brings to mind, the drill sergeant portrayed by R. Lee Ermy in Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket. Unsettling, verbally abusive and scary, a taskmaster, every student’s nightmare teacher, yes, that about sums up Fletcher’s charactcer. Miles Teller is seriously talented. He manages to hold his own against the towering performance of Simmons and probably deserved an Oscar nomination at least (didn’t happen). He displays the vulnerability of a young boy who wants to be great and not get discouraged by the sadistic teacher, superbly. Plus, Teller is really a trained drummer which only adds to the charm of the film and makes us buy into his motivation. Without this aspect, the entire film would have fallen flat.
If you are a fan of well written drama, watch Whiplash. If you are a fan of intense sequences, watch Whiplash. If you are a fan of amazing performances, watch Whiplash. If you are a fan of Jazz music or sports films, watch Whiplash. A MUST WATCH. Even after the film has ended, we are never convinced that Fletcher’s methods work. Neyman is as much at fault in this relationship too since he never lets go of his ego. Whiplash indeed!!