Release Date: 16 January 2015
Running time: 107 minutes
Director: Damien Chazelle
Starring: J.K. Simmons, Miles Teller, Paul Reiser, Melissa Benoist
Its January again, and the latest Oscar nominees are once again being paraded about with a laughable sense of self-importance, predictably turning film lovers everywhere into a tiresome tirade of petulant children. Whiplash joins this slew of awards season releases, but remains relatively modest compared to its nominated peers. With its biggest star being mostly remembered for playing J Jonah Jamieson in Sam Raimi’s Spider-man trilogy, and a director with only one previous film under his belt, its hardly your conventional Oscar fodder. No silly prosthetics, no true stories or real people, and no politics. Whiplash might seem low-key, but don’t let that fool you. Underneath its basic exterior lies an incredibly intense and extremely rewarding drama, and one which will stay with you for a long time after the credits roll. .
On the surface a straight-forward story of a young man honing his talent through the help of his eccentric teacher, what lies beneath is an unsettling tale of obsession and power. Beloved character actor J K Simmons gives a thoroughly intimidating performance, commanding the screen as the unhinged and abusive instructor Fletcher. His moments of calm are are as unsettling as his verbal and physical outburts, and like a dormant volcano he’s ready to explode at any moment. His well-trodden comedy chops serve him well here too, with some darkly funny quick-fire outbursts reminiscent of Full Metal Jacket‘s drill sergeant Hartman. Its a performance that will more than likely make mincemeat out of the best supporting actor category for which he’s nominated.
However Dr. Frankenstein isn’t anything without his monster, and Miles Teller as the obsessively driven Neeman makes for an effective protagonist. Initially naive and optimistic, his aspirations are quickly worn down by Fletcher’s incessant bullying, but he refuses to cave. His bloodied hands and failed relationships are testament to his endurance as he continues down the dark path to becoming as coldly calculated as his nurturing nemesis. Despite his arrogance we remain with him throughout, standing by his side as he is repeatedly knocked back in increasingly frustrating and traumatic episodes.
With CGI being able to create almost anything we can imagine, its refreshing to see something on such a small scale inspire more awe than the biggest of blockbusters. The music is fantastic, but more than anything else you’ll be left breathless by Whiplash‘s flawless construction. The camera work is intimate, the frame a blur of drumsticks and blood as the sound perfectly syncs with the image. From a filmmaking standpoint alone, its extremely satisfying. The final sequence in particular will leaving you reeling as much as the most perfectly executed action set piece. It’s a wonderfully cathartic experience, but tinged with just the right amount of darkness to leave you uneasy.
A timeless and almost effortlessly entertaining drama, Whiplash neither rushes nor drags; it’s very much on tempo. 2015 has a lot to live up to.