[Film Review] Whiplash (2014)

Whiplash poster

Title: Whiplash
Year: 2014
Country: USA
Language: English
Genre: Drama, Music
Director/Writer: Damien Chazelle
Music: Justin Hurwitz
Cinematography: Sharone Meir
Miles Teller
J.K. Simmons
Melissa Benoist
Paul Reiser
Austin Stowell
Nate Lang
Chris Mulkey
Jayson Blair
Rating: 8.7/10

Whiplash 2014

Few might expect an indie drama about a dysfunctional mentor-student relationship about jazz-drum can be such a thrilling adrenaline drive, WHIPLASH, which not only proudly joins the elite top 8 in the upcoming Oscar BEST PICTURE nominees, but is also counted as a major contender in for a harvest (with J.K. Simmons irrevocably has BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR in his bag). It is also hard to imagine this is only young director Damien Chazelle’s second feature, after his less-seen debut GUY AND MADELINE ON A PARK BENCH (2009), WHIPLASH is such a full-grown piece of gem, with the slithering camera movement, a plethora of intensive close-ups and snappy editing, a buzzy audio surrounding and the irresistible jazzy soundtrack, it engages us with a daunting study of the pursuit of being the greatest and a spellbinding and unblemished mental orgasm in its fierce solo-drum finale.

Structurally the film is unsparing wrangle of dual dynamism between Andrew (Teller), a 19-year-old initiated into an eminent music school in New York and his instructor Terrence Fletcher (Simmons), whose method is unapologetically radical, he has a firm conviction that there is only one way to elicit a prodigy’s true potential, which is through high-handed pressure and unyielding dismissal, “good work” is the most vicious remark to nip a prospective genius in the bud, as the jazz titan Charlie “Yardbird” Parker, if his tutor had not thrown a cymbal to him after a mediocre performance, he would not be the short-lived legend in the history of music (he died in the age of 34 and was a severe dug addict). Of course, his one-sided theory cannot convince all the audience, and the truth is, his famous Charlie Parker vignette is mistakenly conceived.

However, Andrew is aspiring to become someone like Parker, he professes to prefer dying young but being one of the greatest to living a conventional life of longevity, so in some extent, they have a tacitly consensual sadomasochistic relation which they both need as a pivot, for Andrew, it is the external incentive he needs to push him to reach raw passion over pure skill, and more sinisterly is for Terrence, he is no way a selfless tutor, to find a talent like Andrew is the ultimate solution to fulfill his own recognition of his entire life, he does’t have the potentiality, but he has the keen eyes to detect one, in the final act, Chazelle manifestly tears off Terrence’s mask of sanctimony, lays bare the selfishly-motivated intention of retaliation, and the final twist is superlatively terrific, in one hand they both get what they want, but for viewers it is less uplifting than chilling to witness Andrew’s transcendence, like in a horror fare, Andrew has to morphed into a monster in order to fight back another monster, if this is the only way to achieve the greatness, I will never second to that kind of atrocity, and greatness doesn’t matter under this circumstance.

Miles Teller is formidably stunning as Andrew, with extra credits given to his prowess as a supposedly talented drummer, fully shoulders on Andrew’s rite-of-passage from a “squeaker” to a full-charged powerhouse, not just with Terrence, where he never flinch, but also in the scenes with others, in particular during the sparse screen-time with his new girlfriend Nicole (Benoist), Teller’s bent as a camera-friendly leading material does outstrip his relatively bland looks, it is a huge shame that he is not in the talk of Oscar-race for this outstanding performance.

Yet again, the MVP is Simmons, his Terrence is a more intelligent and malevolent update of R. Lee Ermey’s Sergeant Hartman in Kubrick’s FULL METAL JACKET (1987), like a kicking time-bomb we never know when he will explode, even in his kindest moments, he is spine-chilling to behold from the protection of a screen, makes viewers wonder how can those survive in his studio band or even co-exist in the same place, that is the charisma of such a powerful portrayal, no praise is overstated. Finally, this film jumps to my current No. 1 of 2014, and good luck in the Oscars!

Oscar 2014 - Whiplash

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