If I had to summarize Whiplash in three words it would have to be electrifying, breathtaking and euphoric. Now some may consider these adjectives a bit too extreme and may accuse me of exaggerating. Well, no. I am not. Whiplash is one of the most powerful and exhilarating films of 2014, and here is why.
The film is set in the fictional New York jazz school the Shaffer Conservatory, where plucky first-year drummer Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller) is cherry-picked by the maestro of Studio Band, Terence Fletcher (JK Simmons). It may be a pretty classic subject, the story of the tutor and his protégé, but Whiplash completely blows all of these other narratives out of the water. It explodes off the screen, the tension is overwhelming and the acting is phenomenal. The power of this narrative lies in the fact that it isn’t an obvious happy and easy relationship and yet it isn’t one based on hate and faced with inevitable failure, either.
Both Fletcher and Andrew want the same thing: “to be one of the greats”. As simple as the goal may seem, as a viewer you have no idea of what is ever coming up next, and that’s why it is so exciting. Of course what also makes the film so exciting is the power bestowed in both Teller’s and Simmons’ performances. Miles Teller has soared to stardom in the last 5 years, becoming more of a familiar face in heartwarming rom coms and Hollywood coming of age comedies such as Two Night Stand, The Spectacular Now or 21 and Over.
In Whiplash, he proves that he is more than a pretty face, and is pretty darn good at drumming too. There is an intensity to his performance that cannot be faked and proves the sheer merit of playing such a part which requires so much physical and emotional strength, especially opposite the terror invoked by Simmons’ character. The terrifying and manipulative conductor never tires and stops at nothing to win. Never vulgar or brash, his wit cuts like a knife and his mere presence makes the room quake. He seems to be above instances such as ethics and humanity and pushes people to their limits because “it is absolutely necessary”, he insists.
Every element interacts in order to produce the most complete and spellbinding film experience. As much as the music dominates, the film excels visually, surprising and enticing the viewer with the abundance of astonishing close-ups à la Hitchcock and terrifically efficient editing, matching the exhilarating pace of the story and making hearts beat even faster.
It is as if Fletcher is an on-screen representation of director Damien Chazelle’s intentions: The film soars, pushing the boundaries in every aspect. It pushes the actors to their limits and further, takes aesthetics to new artistic levels and overcomes all clichés of initiatory journeys with the final jaw-dropping twist. And yet the line to vulgarity and excessiveness is never crossed, every detail of Whiplash is extremely efficient and as precisely mastered as the first bars of ‘Upswingin’.
As amazed as I personally was by the film, what I did not expect was the entire room in which I was in to burst into spontaneous intense applause as the end credits appeared. It goes to show that Whiplash is far more than just a passing-by film. It overcomes you, drains you and forces you to feel it with all that you have.
Originally published on Epigram