One of the most popular films on the film festival circuit this year has been Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash. Luckily, I was able to see it at the New York Film Festival this past Monday. It is no doubt worthy of all of the acclaim and applause that it has been receiving. Whiplash is an intense drama that still finds enough time to bring some comedy to the table as well as give its two lead actors some incredible material to work with.
Whiplash follows Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller), a young drummer at one of America’s premier musical schools as he is courted by master conductor Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) for the school’s main band. Fletcher’s aggressive and almost abusive teaching style will either form Andrew into one of the best drummers in the world or break him down completely as this film turns into a tale of the human limit and the importance of art in our culture.
Whiplash is really a three-man film that is carried by the phenomenal performances of Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons and the powerful direction and writing from Damien Chazelle. Miles Teller confirms that he is past deserving the accolade of being one of the best up and coming actors in Hollywood. He is actually already one of the best actors working. The abilities he displayed in The Spectacular Now are only further confirmed with Whiplash as he has found a certain mixture of charisma and vulnerability to make this performance work. Additionally, with a great introduction and an even better conclusion, Miles Teller showcases some great chemistry with J.K. Simmons throughout the film. It is actually J.K. Simmons that has the showier role, and he fully delivers as a guy that keeps on crossing the line between antagonist and helpful mentor in stunning fashion. Simmons brings so much intensity to the film while also finding time to throw in a bunch of one-liners as if he is Robert Downey Jr. playing Tony Stark. Credit also has to be given to Damien Chazelle for this wonderful mix of comedy and intensity. Without the right mix it would feel unnatural for the film, but Chazelle finds the exact right amount as if he is a veteran director instead of a relative newcomer.
While Whiplash ultimately has a simple storyline, the film has a lot to say through that storyline. It raises interesting questions on whether we are being too easy in raising this generation, on how much importance art should be put on in our culture and how much the human mind should be forced to endure. It is with these questions and the way it so expertly explores them that Whiplash rises to another level and becomes a near perfect film (the one complaint I have is that it fails to establish its setting, which we are told takes place in New York City but are very rarely ever shown).
Whiplash is a seemingly simple film that reveals itself to be so much more the further you look at it.