Director: Damien Chazelle.
Starring: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Paul Reiser.
Who is this Damien Chazelle? Well, he’s a relatively young director coming from Rhode Island and he moved to Hollywood in pursuit of his filmmaking career, though he did have a go at being a drummer at Princeton High School, this period being his inspiration to making Whiplash. But when he realised being a musician wasn’t going to work for him, or him work as a musician, he went after his first ambition. To make films. At first he was a writer for hire, working on scripts like Grand Piano and 10 Cloverfield Lane; a film he was going to direct, but he instead made Whiplash.
Written and directed by Damien Chazelle, this being his second feature after this 2009 picture Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench. This was a film he wrote whilst struggling to write La La Land, hitting writer’s block and budget issues he made the smart decision to put that to one side and make Whiplash instead. But it originally started as a short with Blumhouse Productions and Right Of Way Film helping with financing Chazelle’s impressive 18minute film which also starred Simmons and was presented at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, winning the Jury award for fiction, securing the funding to make the full picture.
Drawing from his own horrid experiences from being in a competitive jazz band back in high school, he tells a story of Andrew Neiman (Tenner), an ambitious and obsessive jazz student aspiring to be one of the greatest jazz musicians. But he comes face to face and hand to face with Terence Fletcher (Simmons), a highly respected and established conductor-come-instructor who is clearly strictly a conductor than an aspiring teacher.
Whilst the narrative is from Neiman’s perspective entirely, and not to diminish Teller’s amazing performance of a student on the brink of cracking under the frightful pressure imposed by Fletcher; the film is almost indirectly more about Fletcher with Simmons stealing the stage with a performance that reminiscent and surpasses R. Lee Emery‘s Gny. Sgt. Hartman from Full Metal Jacket. Even when Fletcher isn’t in scene, what we see is the scarring in his wake that instead of breaking Neiman, it’s what motivate him to be great which slowly burns into a competition between the two.
Terence Fletcher is an awful, relentless perfectionist who would rather see someone fail than succeed possibly placing greatest completely out of reach and deeming all his students unworthy of his presence. He strikes fear into his students by harshly berating and insulting them, verbally tearing strips off them demanding absolute perfection and explodes into a furious tirade at the slightest mistake going beyond anything that would be deemed acceptable or even appropriate. It brought back dreadful memories of going to lessons I hated, though it was the subject matter I disliked as opposed to any one teacher. A monster of a teacher like Fletcher just wouldn’t be allowed to exist in schools.
Simmons is an absolute beast, raging and ferocious, and borderline psychotic as he switches from polite, almost approachable, leading his prey into a false security of approval before ripping them to sheds in front of everyone else. It’s absolutely no surprise this won him the Oscar. Teller, himself a drummer provides an equally great performance but his character just doesn’t permit the same attention as Fletcher’s but his acting talent here shouldn’t be overlooked, especially his musical performances. Whilst filming an epic 9minute solo, Chazelle wouldn’t say cut and would let Tenner drum on until he was exhausted earning real blisters, blood and sweat.
The cinematography is astounding, and turns what could a boring jazz piece into a thrilling, captivating masterpiece. The precision in the film making here is incredible and totally deserves the Best Film Editing and Best Sound Mixing Oscars. The script is sharp, almost afforded to entirely Simmons creation of Fletcher, but his quips and insults are like punches to the head. It was also nominated for Best Picture losing out to Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s Birdman and for Best Adapted Screenplay losing to Graham Moore’s Imitation Game.
Obviously, the music is an integral part of the film with Chazelle’s old classmate and friend, Justin Hurwitz providing some original jazz pieces and some underscore accompanied by classic jazz pieces from greats such as Stan Getz, Duke Ellington and of course, Hank Levy’s titular track. It’s completely respectful to the genre and should give non-fans of jazz a good appreciation for the majestic style of music, but could equally put people off ever wanting to learn an instrument.
It really raises questions of how far are you prepared to go in order to achieve greatest, when does it stop, when is enough, enough, and are you prepared to sacrifice for greatest? Your own sanity? It’s one of the most intense films I’ve ever seen, having to go twice in the same week to make sure it wasn’t something else like too much coffee or something to spicy that was making me sweat and push into my seat. I was sweating for Teller on both accounts. It’s like when you’ve been bullied to such a degree, you feel like bursting into raging tears. Personally I think I would have quit long before Neiman.
Running Time: 10
The Cast: 9
Job Description: 10
The Extra Bonus Point: 10 for being a formidable anxiety-inducing masterpiece!