Rushing or Dragging : Whiplash

“There are no two words in the English language more harmful than ‘good job'”. What is sure to be remembered as the most iconic line of this film, should tell you all about what kind of movie it is. What kind of movie is Whiplash? the best answer I can say is relentless. A film that screams a lot of social commentary while never truly addressing it in a direct way. It fills scene after scene with so much tension I actually think screenwriter Damien Chazelle had a physical elephant in his room when he wrote it.

The story follows Andrew Neyman portrayed by Miles Teller, who is a new student in one of the most prestigious music schools in the country. The school has an infamous instructor named Mr. Fletcher by portrayed J.K. Simmons. He leads the #1 jazz orchestra in the school and rules it with an iron fist. The only thing shorter than his patience is the amount of time you have to make a good impression on him. Fletcher sizes students up in mere moments of them playing any selection. Even being selected for his band is a double edge sword because the status of being on the band comes hand in hand with tremendous pressure and abuse. Neyman has a spark, a desire to be one of the greats, but can it survive the weight of Fletcher’s expectations.

Fletcher’s tyranny over the school and his band in particular is all apart of his formula. A formula born from the legend of Charlie Parker.  Charlie Parker is one of the all time great jazz musicians, especially as a soloist. While that fact is well-known and accepted. What isn’t so well know is the story of his encounter with Jo Jones, drummer for Count Basie’s Orchestra, one of most prominent swing bands in the US. A young Charlie Parker messed up during a performance and Jo Jones threw a cymbal at him. This resulted in Parker getting laughed off staged. Parker didn’t stand for defeat and the occasion lighted a fire in him that would return him that stage a year later and such began the legacy of Charlie Parker. This story peers into the motivations of Fletcher who truly believes that the only way to cultivate another Charlie Parker is with relentless pressure. To constantly push students past conventional expectations in an effort to reach new heights. He is completely aware that his behaviour is abusive, and he makes absolutely no apologies for it. He is completely at peace with any and all collateral damage. If he needs to put down 1000 mediocre musicians to make one more Charlie Parker, he would consider that money well spent.

The Bird

Miles Teller is building a pretty spectacular resume at this point. I didn’t think he be topping his performance in “The Spectacular NOW” any time soon. He walks a perfect line as Andrew Neyman. Putting on a show of different emotions as he rides the Fletcher roller coaster. You get the impression he a typical and mild manner young student. You see a transformation in him as he endures Mr. Fletcher’s school of hard knocks. The transformation isn’t immediate and mostly important feels believable the entire way through. You start to observe more aggressiveness and confidence in everything he does, even in things not dealing with his music. It’s Teller’s ability to always put Neyman’s spark on display. This is a very hard thing to nail this in a film. In most films your always going to be aware of the characters motivations, maybe even be given a sappy monologue by an old and wise sage like figure. To actually see it, to see the fire burning throughout a scene or in this case an entire film is rare. I’m not talking about the lovable montages of rocky, or inspired monologues of Denzel in Remember the Titans. This is raw fire, proving a point isn’t as important to Neyman as just doing it, blood and guts be damned.

unfortunately for Teller, he decided to turn in his best work during an absolutely monster year for lead actors. His performance will be remembered as commendable, but probably won’t survive the test of time. However, J.K. Simmons will not have this issue as his stint as Mr. Fletcher is just flat-out captivating. Find me somebody that doesn’t think this performance is all time great and I’ll show you a liar. It’s even more impressive when you consider how easily this character could have been over done. You know Fletcher character is overreacting on purpose and yet you’ll still have a lot of trouble distinguishing what is real and what’s part of the teaching mantra. To some how walk the line of abusive but yet still be endearing enough for people to see the obvious, and troubled, father/son dynamic at play. It’s honestly just a chilling experience, Simmons is a walking time bomb in the entire film. You desperately cant wait to see the explosion and at the same time for the characters sake how the blast radius isn’t too large.

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Some will criticize Whiplash on is its depth. I will admit there is a lot of style over substance going on in the film. Music/Jazz is only the background in every sense of the word. That theme is not explored in any sort of meaningful way, but it’s honestly fine. The perception of the music profession is a cut throat one, and this film successfully examines that piece even without focusing on the music in general. In my opinion, I view this as a strength. Whiplash is a film that uses music, but it’s hardly about it at all.  Just watch the trailer below and find out for yourself.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7d_jQycdQGo]

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