“Whiplash” Written and Directed by Damien Chazelle

By on February 16, 2015


Damien Chazelle (This is his second feature.  I never saw his first.)

Main Cast:

Miles Teller (This is the first movie I’ve seen him in.)

J.K. Simmons (“The Cider House Rules”, “Juno”, “Burn After Reading”)

Paul Reiser (“Diner”, “Beverly Hills Cop”, “Aliens”)

Running Time:   107 Minutes


Whiplash posterGoing into the movie with only having the vaguest knowledge of the storyline, I expected to see “The Paper Chase” meets “The Karate Kid” with drums.  The trailers don’t do the film justice.  The moment jazz music started playing, I was hooked1.

Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller, ready to take over Shia Lebouf’s career should the genuine article make a misstep), a promising and confident (to the point of arrogance) drummer, enrolls at New York’s prestigious (and fictitious) Shaffer Music Conservatory, which is the best in the country and the launching pad to professional careers in music.  He immediately comes under the tutelage and focus of the conservatory’s tough love instructor Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), who recognizes Andrew’s talent and desire.  Fletcher’s means of getting the best out of his musicians include intimidation, screaming, ridicule, brutal sarcasm (laced with bigotry when possible), threats, pitting musicians against each other, physical contact, and throwing and kicking instruments and other things.  By comparison, the Navy SEAL drill instructors in “American Sniper” had a soft touch.

Whiplash-5547.cr2Personally, I love a good tough love mentor.  As I mentioned in one of the non-movie articles I wrote, I’ve always found compliments purposeless since they don’t help you improve, a perspective Fletcher, a musician himself, shares.  Fletcher, however, definitely toes the line between what’s effective and what’s abusive and it’s his means of teaching that is the focus on the movie.  I also appreciate talent and justifiable confidence so I was very drawn to both characters and thought they were an excellent convergence of lead characters.  In terms of talent, focus, and arrogance and the combination of the three traits that result in clumsy and abrasive interpersonal skills, Andrew is very similar to Benedict Cumberbatch’s Alan Turing in “The Imitation Game”, including the way their intimate relationships are impacted by their pursuits.

whiplash1_9578953_ver1.0_640_480By now the performance of Simmons, always charismatic and my favorite part of Jason Reitman’s 2007 “Juno”, has won numerous Best Supporting Actor awards, including the best indicator in the lead-up to the Oscars, the Screen Actors Guild.  Now that I’ve seen each of the other nominees in that category except Robert Duvall (“The Judge”), I think it’s safe to say Simmons can clear his mantle to make a place for his Oscar. The varying ways he delivers his potent lines is artful, especially when he lays into his students with derogatory insults, which can be so clever they’re hilarious (since they’re not directed at me).  All the supporting acting is good but it’s just filler to give the story context.  Most of the supporting characters are musicians and it’s a pleasure to watch them actually play their instruments on camera (as opposed to fingering over recordings).  For the viewer, it’s only the interaction between Andrew and Fletcher that matters.

whiplash-blog-2Teller’s drumming contributes more to his performance than his acting, which is not a slight.   If his drumming didn’t come across as convincingly as it does, the film wouldn’t have worked. And the film does more than work.  It’s a nonstop rush, building up to an ending you can’t possibly foresee.  In leading up to that climax is an element that single-handedly elevates the Oscar-nominated writing, which is already very good.

Between the performances, the intense backdrop of a competitive music school, the jazz music, and the storyline, “Whiplash” joins, and maybe surpasses, “Birdman” as the year’s most exhilarating movie.  Even more than “Birdman”, “Whiplash” is the 2014 movie I can most confidently recommend to people.


February 13, 2015

1It’s not that I’m an aficionado but 20GB of the 100GB of music I have in my iTunes library is jazz.  To give you an idea of how much music that is, my 31 Miles Davis albums make up 2GB.  Piano and drums are my favorite instruments.  During high school, I sat in on drums with our neighborhood’s garage band when the regular drummer couldn’t make it.  I never took lessons but I could keep simple time and knew the songs.  I took a year of piano and stopped because my family couldn’t take listening to the hours of drills.  Drums were out of the question.

One thing I noticed about the way Fletcher ripped into his students with unrestrained bigoted and derogatory insults is he never did it to the black students, despite their high relative number.  I figure it was for PC reasons.  He takes a gay swipe at one, but that doesn’t count.

About Dan Walker

As part of an Air Force family, I went to elementary school in Great Falls, MT, junior high in Cheyenne, WY and high school and college in the San Francisco Bay Area, graduating from San Francisco State University with a degree in business. I was fortunate to have worked for great companies in Silicon Valley (Oracle Corp) and Hollywood (Miramax Films). I also lived and worked (primarily in financial services, which has no great companies) for eight years in Manhattan, New York City. I now reside in New York's beautiful Hudson Valley.

3 comments on ““Whiplash” Written and Directed by Damien Chazelle

  1. Jeremy Walker on said:

    Another great review Dan, Thanks!

  2. I am interested in seeing this film. J.K. Simmons – seared into my memory as the evil inmate from Oz and the accolades he has been receiving – along with your review – are reasons enough for me.

    • Despite my aversion to TV dramas, I watched one episode of Oz and that was enough for me. Extremely high quality but way too violent. Given your appreciation of Simmons in that role, it’s a safe bet to say you’ll enjoy his performance in “Whiplash” and the film itself.

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