Jazz lovers will be attracted to this drama but its appeal is far wider than you might suppose.



Miles Teller


When J.K. Simmons got an Oscar for his performance in this film, a second feature from writer/director Damien Chapelle, it was richly deserved even if Hollywood chose to recognise him as the year's Best Supporting Actor for what was in reality a starring role. But, if the story of Whiplash as realised here arguably yields something less than a masterpiece, it needs to be stressed that the film has major virtues that extend beyond the contribution from Simmons, outstanding though he is.


Whiplash centres on two men who are devoted to jazz. One is the newcomer Andrew (Miles Teller) who, studying drumming, is a pupil in a conservatory and the other is the dominant teacher there, Fletcher, played by Simmons. The latter, a force of nature  who has developed a goading manner that puts the fear of God into his students, is a great character, someone who in Simmons's hands bestrides the screen. Fletcher is a genuinely complex figure. He is a ruthless martinet and on that level could readily be seen as fascinating but deeply repulsive. Yet, at the same time, he truly loves music, is as knowledgable as anybody could be about what he teaches and really does believe the those who have it in them to become great jazz musicians will only succeed if pushed in extreme ways.


But it is Andrew with whom the film begins and Teller is excellent in this part, as is newcomer Melissa Benoist playing the girl seen by Andrew working in a cinema and to whom he is attracted. Add that Whiplash (the title being that of a piece of music played by a band) is also a great movie celebrating jazz and marked by brilliant editing by Tom Cross and there is no doubt that its appeal is wider than one might initially assume. If its finale provides a grand crescendo, it also seems a shade improbable and tends to side-step the interesting issues touched upon earlier such as how dedication to art can come at a cost to the artist's personal life. This may mean that Whiplash is not quite the masterpiece it might have been, but it is a work of immense distinction on several levels and you don't forget it.  




Cast: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Paul Reiser, Melissa Benoist, Austin Stowell, Nate Long, Chris Mulkey.

Dir Damien Chazelle, Pro Jason Blum, Helen Estabrook, Michel Litvak and David Lancaster, Screenplay Damien Chazelle, Ph Sharone Meir, Pro Des Melanie Palzis-Jones, Ed Tom Cross, Music Justin Hurwitz, Costumes Lisa Norcia.

Bold Films/Blumhouse/Right of Way Films-Sony Pictures.
106 mins. USA. 2014. Rel: 16 Jan 2015. Cert. 15