Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash follows the story of a young and talented drummer studying at Schaffer academy in New York. The film expertly observes the pressures and stresses of working under such a manipulative director.
Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller) is a 19 year-old student, gifted with the sticks in his hand. The film opens with him practising his drumming and is a clear indication of how ambitious and determined he is. After impressing Terence Fletcher (JK Simmons), the director of the leading ensemble in the school, Neyman is promoted into the band. Here is where he discovers the strict conditions of working under the perfectionist Fletcher. Insults regarding his mother who ran away when he was young and having chairs thrown at him isn’t what Neyman expected.
However, he remains strong and as determined as ever to prove that he can be a great, continuing to practice at every opportunity, literally playing until his hands are blistering and bleeding.
Whiplash ultimately becomes a clash of two musical geniuses striving for perfection, illustrating the pressures and tensions to the extent where the audience are expecting either one to crack at any stage. Chazelle keeps the film strongly in the shadow of Neyman, tracking every single strain and emotion with the camera spending a lot of the time behind the shoulder of Neyman. Tempo is a major theme throughout the film in relation to the jazz numbers on the soundtrack which all make for an enthralling watch.
Teller and Simmons both deliver perfect performances. Teller, who is certainly coming of age, manages to truly reflect the development of Neyman, not only as a drummer, but also as a person. Teller spends the majority of the film in all kinds of pain; either sweating, bleeding or crying and he delivers every possible emotion his character endures.
Simmons standing in the opposite corner also perfects the role of the cynical, terrifying director, constantly pushing his band for perfection in the most intimidating approach possible. His quips and insults leave the audience wondering whether to laugh or sit in a state shock.
Whiplash is a dark and pulsating watch, which deservedly left Sundance with two awards under its arm. With the Oscar nominations just around the corner, it would be no surprise to see a number of honours coming the way of Chazelle’s creation.