Dir. Damien Chazelle
Reviewed by Tom Wade (@thinkwade)
How on earth therefore has Whiplash managed to end up so good? It’s a simple story of a young student who wants to be the best drummer around, and his interactions/altercations with the teacher who might just get him there/destroy him. It’s a film without any plot twists, explosions or other Oscar-bait moments. It remains however, a 5 star film that everyone should immediately see.
"drumming one out"
Whiplash really succeeds due to its simplicity. Yes on paper it may not seem the most appealing (indeed our very own Matt Adcock remarked after seeing the trailer ‘I’ll catch it on DVD’) with a young student being taught Jazz drumming – but that’s really where its genius lies. Once we know that Andrew will do anything to get to the top, it starts a chain of events that play out like action scenes. Drumming has never appeared so intense, an audition never felt so awkward, and teaching never felt so brutal. Miles Teller is fantastic as Andrew, nailing the drama as well as the awkward comedy of his character attempting to have relationships and grow up. Whiplash frequently requires Teller to be sweet and innocent but also to have a driven and nasty side that will do anything – and screw anyone over – to progress.
"You'll never make the Marine Core!"
J K Simmonds on the other hand makes other drill sergeants of cinema look positively ridiculous in comparison. One dramatic air grab with his right hand is enough to make you feel physically sick with fear as Simmonds stalks the screen like a tiger circling its wounded prey. Simmonds constantly crackles with an unnerving energy that feels ready to bubble to the surface. Every line he utters feels immediately quotable and memorable (‘Hmmm – not quite my temp’) and his wisecracks literally crackle across the screen. It’s a credit to the film therefore that you’re never quite sure whether his methods are indeed genius or madness. Sure he throws cymbals at his students heads, makes them furiously audition till 2am, ruins their relationships, and sends them towards early breakdowns – but if he turns them into better musicians, surely he’s done a good job as a teacher?
The rest of the cast are excellent, although they really are just side attractions compared to the duelling central pairing of student versus teacher. It’s a bit like Star Wars but with more tension and less lightsabers. The final 15 minutes in particular are a master class of filmmaking, and you’ll feel every cymbal smashed and drum… er… drummed to point that you’ll discover you’re literally on the edge of your seat.
Added into the mix is the ridiculous fact that director Damien Chazelle has only just turned 30. Who on earth does he think he is directing work that this this polished, this enthralling, this confident and this layered at such a young age? If this is the sort of work that he can produce at 30 (and on a subject matter that must have been a hard sell in the first place) then we can only imagine as to what he’ll go on to achieve in cinema. The older generation of directors must be casting a nervous eye at the energy coming from Whiplash and quietly panicking about how on earth they can match it.
"Whiplash battles Iron Man - oh wait, wrong film"
Whiplash really is a film for everyone, regardless of your position on Jazz music. It has drama in abundance, a screen villain for the ages in Simmonds, and a running tempo that increases to a pulsating climax. Whiplash races along like a war film with our characters preparing for battle, manically training and frequently pushing beyond their boundaries both physical and mental. And if that doesn’t excite you – then perhaps you should just reconsider watching films full stop.
Out of a potential 5 you have to go with a Darkmatters:
(5 - don't stop the music)...
Awesomeness öööö – intensity taken off the scale
Laughs öö – some fun
Horror öö – do you hate music?
Spiritual Enlightenment ööö – let your soul make a joyful noise