Whiplash is a compelling movie thanks to the powerful performances of its leads and deft camera moves that tears the cliched prodigy story apart to create an intense narrative about greatness.
Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller), a young jazz drummer who attends one of the best music schools in the country under the tutelage of the school’s fearsome maestro of jazz named Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), struggles to make it as a top jazz drummer.
If Terence Fletcher were real, he would be shaking his head in disappointment over the millenial’s mediocre taste, such as the minimal effort boy band that is One Direction, and fan-pandering white feminist pop star that is Taylor Swift. Fortunately for them, Terence Fletcher is confined in a fictional world with Andrew Neiman.
Whiplash, by its trailer alone, is no doubt a riveting movie. Its peers – mentorship stories like Dead Poets Society, Freedom Writers and even Sister Act – tell an inspiring story for youths in one neatly wrapped fluffy package. This movie does none of that Hollywoodized bullshit.
In a society where kids only need to show up and automatically get a token for participation, Fletcher insists that – there are no two words in the English language more harmful than “good job”.
And so, the audience is taken into an intense plot wherein Fletcher pummels Neiman into shape through verbal, psychological and physical abuse. These “lessons” include spending hours on getting the right tempo until the boy’s hands bled and lying about someone’s death to manipulate his emotions.
The director expertly builds moments that grab and hold your attention through jump cuts and camera work. A shot of Andrew from behind the drum set alternates with images of a tightly wound crew under pressure and then stop, but only to showcase Fletcher and his fresh round of emasculating and homophobic slurs. Every rehearsal is a psychological warfare and you’re in the thick of it.
Powerful performances from leads amplify the story. Miles Teller has proven to be one of the best actors in his generation with a hyper-performance that electrify his drumming scenes. J.K. Simmons is perfectly casted as the foul-mouthed maestro from hell. The supporting cast is also worth mentioning. They are able to convey the heavy and exhausting pressure of being under the tutelage of Fletcher with minimal dialogue.
As the movie progresses however, it ends up relying on convenient narrative coincidences to move the plot along. Fletcher, upon close inspection, is a caricature villain. None of his tactics is related to music or talent.
Wince inducing scenes aside, Whiplash is more than just about music and mentorship. It looks at the real cost of greatness in anything that you do. It makes the audiences wonder – how far should you push you limits? is it all worth it to go out in flames for the sake of a legacy?
Whiplash also makes a good point for today’s society where popularity and complacency breeds mediocrity. You Tube vloggers are raking in money by creating click-baiting lowest common denominator videos and anyone who can carry a few tunes can be a bankable pop star through auto tune and radio friendly hits.
Fletcher’s method is debatable, but as Whiplash ends with a life-affirming cathartic finish, we are reminded that legends are not molded out of clay but carved out of a rock.
My Rating: 9/10