Oscar Nominee Review: ‘Whiplash’
Director: Damien Chazelle
Cast: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Paul Reiser, Melissa Benoist
Plot: A first year college student and aspiring drummer Andrew Neiman finds himself with a place in the studio, Shaffer Conservatory’s famed jazz band headed by the terrifyingly maniacal conductor Terrence Fletcher. Fletcher will stop at nothing to bring out a Neiman’s full potential, bringing the mentor and student into a violent and abusive working relationship.
Review: Ah, the brilliant but troubled mentor and/or student. Along with race issues, unrecognised in their time geniuses, artistic madness and war we’ve just about ticked all the Oscar nominee boxes this year with a Boyhood review needed to add in dysfunctional family drama. There’s a reason we always come back to these themes though, as they continue to resonant with all of us and provide great entertainment. Whiplash is no exception.
Everybody recognises J.K. Simmons from something, even if they don’t remember his name. Whether it’s from Oz, Spider-Man or Juno, you remember him from one of his many scene stealing roles. This is possibly his most powerful, most spell-bending performance. You only get a taster of the manic conductor in the trailer as his rather ripe vocabulary gets edited around. He’s not a nice man. He berates his students, threatens them and mocks them for everything from their absent parents to their racial heritage. His motivation is outlined later in the film, and we’re privy to his own struggles, but you’d be hard pressed to find someone who feels that the ends justify the means.
What’s remarkable in this film is that the protagonist Neiman, played by relevant newcomer Miles Teller, manages to stop Simmons from completely pulling the film out from under him. Teller’s going to be one to watch, with his talent already being noticed enough to score him the role of Reed Richards in the upcoming Fantastic Four. Teller has hurled himself into a highly physical role, beating the ever-loving crap out of the drum kit as much as he verbally spars with Simmons.
Some aspects of the story seem almost cursory in their screen time, such as a family dinner scene and a short lived romantic subplot but it all adds up to an overall picture. It’s an engaging and emotionally driven story that, although it’s the performances that will resonant the longest, has such a solid base that it’s easy to get invested with the characters. You won’t spend much time questioning why Neiman spends so many hours turning his hands into a bloody mess to improve his skills even on reflection it seems extreme. Best buckle up for this one, it’s a crazy ride.
Score: NINE out of TEN
Chances of Winning: It’s an emotionally powerful story hinged on amazing performances, but without the crowd pleasing addition of a misunderstood scientist or race issue it lacks the edge needed to push it ahead of the game.