One. Two. Three. Four. One. Two. Three. STOP. That’s not my tempo. Relax. Im not going to throw a cymbal at you and you’re probably not a jazz musician, but that doesn’t matter. Whiplash is foot stomping, head rattling, breath stealing, beauty and tragedy all crammed into a jazz measure. Everybody on point? And…
The brass screams, the drums drop in and Whiplash is in full flow. As subtly as big band leader and music teacher Terence Fletcher (J K Simmons) lightly flicks his finger to strike the band, this film begins to play you. You follow 19 year old music student Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) as he pushes his limits to be the next best Jazz drummer. You’re hanging on every beat, every fill, every crash of the cymbal, probably learning something as you desperately try to discover whether you’re in time.
J K Simmons offers an intense, raucous, raging kind of performance. Beautiful yet tragic. Every bit the horrible teacher we all had but without the human nature to hold back mentally or physically, evidenced by launching a cymbal at Andrew after he drops out of time briefly a la Charlie Parker. Fletcher has a reputation as the man who creates class from mediocrity and wins every competition he enters but you close those doors, confine him to a classroom, a stage, a rehearsal room with just a bunch of instruments and those things that work them and he will take whatever self confidence you have left and devour it. He sees nothing wrong in what he does, the fear, the intimidation, he knows what he is doing and believes that this is the only way to bring out the best in someone. He will break the spirit of everyone near him if it will find him the next Buddy Rich “I was there to push people beyond what’s expected of them. I believe that’s an absolute necessity”.
Young Andrew is transfixed by Fletcher and continually seeks his approval, climbing out of a car accident to ensure his position in the band, flesh wounds and all. Then again, after being forced to practise until his hands bleed this was probably just another day in the office for the aspiring jazz-oid. Miles Teller runs the rule over his character and you can see a true determination to succeed but what is his ultimate goal? Make a life and a career out of music? (If not, leaving his girlfriend wasn’t the smoothest of moves you’d expect from a Jazz Kat) Or simply to impress Fletcher. Whatever the answer, Fletcher inspires a new drive for Andrew and he doesn’t hold back from his family when it comes to his future “I’d rather die drunk, broke at 34 and have people at a dinner table talk about me than live to be rich and sober at 90 and nobody remembered who I was.”
This film is a symphony and whilst you’re watching you feel like the conductor. You stretch forward in anticipation as the film lifts and slump back as it softens, jump up in excitement and gasp at what you’ve created. Triumphant. But there’s more to it than just stellar acting performances, this is a throwback to a genre of music that the modern generation has long turned it’s back on, so maybe we deserve to have Jo Jones throw a cymbal at us to kick us in to gear eh. Most of all remember the words of Fletcher, “There are no two words in the English language more harmful than ‘good job’”. Lights fade..applause…you’ve made it…now get off my stage.