With every Oscar nominee I see, I find it more and more appalling when people say, “2014 wasn’t a good year for movies.” 2014 was a spectacular year for movies, and one shouldn’t really have to look any further than Whiplash to prove that point. The story follows jazz drummer Andrew Neimann (Miles Teller) as he chases his dream of becoming “one of the greats.” When Neimann finds himself under the direction of the abusive Terrence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), he must decide what he can endure and how badly he wants to achieve his goal.
Whiplash is carried by two amazing leads and driven by a focused intensity, making for a heart-pounding film that exceeds expectations. It features dramatic escalation at its finest, and it proves that the days of impressive original movies are not behind us.
What I liked
As I said before, Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons play their parts to the fullest. Teller is a believable college musician, and that’s all he has to be until Simmons’ character jumps into the mix. As soon as Andrew Neimann truly meets Terrence Fletcher, all hell breaks loose. Fletcher is meant to be the antagonist of the story; a constant power that Neimann must adapt to. Once the characters get a general understanding of each other, they go to war. Each role is a perfect foil for the other. Even though J.K. Simmons is credited as a supporting actor, he steals the show and does just as much work as Teller does to carry the movie. As Teller responds to his character, Simmons never falters in his aggressive demeanor. The result is terrifying on-screen magic.
Whiplash’s story may not seem like much from the outside, and it’s not. This story is about a jazz drummer who wants to be the best he can be, and that’s it. There are a few twists and turns, but everything is pretty straightforward. However, this approach gives the movie a certain focus. It doesn’t need to shoot for the stars and be the most ambitious movie in the market. The story aims for one particular goal, and in doing so, it achieves that goal in a near-perfect manner.
The way it does this is through suspense and intense escalation. I’ve used the word “intense” a few times already in this review, and that’s not an accident. When Neimann is shown in a tough situation, the movie makes you feel like you’re right along with him. As the stakes are raised higher, you yourself feel more and more uneasy about the whole situation. Clichéd as it may be, this movie is a lot like a roller coaster. Things get scarier as the story/car is lifted higher, and at one point, you can even pinpoint a scene that parallels with foolishly looking down from the top of a coaster, seeing the ground far below. And as soon as things seem to level out, you plummet towards the ground at top speed.
Of course, none of this would be possible without good direction. Director Damien Chazelle manipulated just about every facet of this movie to his advantage. Most notably, he uses the basic fear of stage fright to create horrifying suspense. If you’re familiar with this common fear, then many of these scenes will hit you to your core. Something else that I noticed was how the minor characters introduced never got full story arcs. I initially thought that was a bit out of place, and frankly, it would have ended up being a thing I didn’t like. After thinking about it some more, however, I realize that it may just be the cleverest thing about Chazelle’s direction. It’s a bit spoiler-y though, so I would recommend you just go see the movie and figure it out from there. But if you’re too impatient…SPOILER – In the plot, Fletcher manipulates band members in such a way that it only affects Neimann. This is the same way Damien Chazelle treats minor characters: as chess pieces, introduced only to affect Fletcher and Neimann’s circumstances. – END SPOILER.
Nope, your eyes do not deceive you. There’s no “What I didn’t like” section. Nothing put me off in this movie, and after a lot of reflection, I couldn’t find a single legitimate flaw to complain about. It’s that good. Whiplash is one of those movies that comes out of nowhere and takes you by surprise with how good it is. It’s suspenseful, meaningful, and captivating. These kinds of movies—good, quality original movies—are the kinds of movies I’d love to see more of.
Have you seen Whiplash? What did you think?