Starring: J.K. Simmons, Miles Teller, Melissa Benoist
Director: Damien Chazelle
Running Time: 107 mins
Whiplash is an American film about a young up-and-coming jazz drummer who enrols in a prestigious music conservatory where he meets a ruthless instructor who will stop at nothing to realise his full potential, even if it means taking him through complete hell and back.
Wow. This is by far one of the most thrilling, heart-pounding and exhilarating films I’ve ever seen, because of its unbelievably intense and relentless atmosphere, mind-blowing performances, incredible score, and a constant sense of heart-pounding tension and drama that really escalate the situation to heights that you could never predict.
Let’s start with the central performances and characters, which have been so acclaimed, and rightly so. Miles Teller is astonishing, and he really emphasises and powerfully shows the extreme determination of his young character, which is an absolutely integral part of the plot, as this is what drives his strong rivalry with his instructor. Also, Teller does an excellent job of portraying the young musician in the periods where his ego is so ridiculously big, however he is so likeable and convincingly determined that you’re able to continue to support him, which is also so important for the latter stages of the story.
Meanwhile, J.K. Simmons’ performance as the ruthless instructor is unbelievable. He’s got the qualities of the sergeant in Full Metal Jacket, that straight-talking, horrifically brutal way of drilling, which is both as hilarious and frightening as in Full Metal Jacket, but an absolutely fascinating character trait. However, the most incredible part of him is how Simmons manages to portray the relentless, brutal man both so intensely, which is what helps to make his rivalry with Teller’s character so intense, but also with a degree of humanity, which makes him so much more convincing and believable, not just an extreme dictator, but also a real man with his own dreams and ambitions, which was an absolutely enthralling side plot.
Away from that, the story is still absolutely stunning. I felt that it was at times quite predictable, in terms of the events that were coming, but what really mattered, and was fortunately totally unpredictable, was the incredible tension and emotion that developed throughout the film, which was what really grabbed my attention, with the actual events effectively just serving as a backdrop to this incredible rivalry between the two men.
Technically, this film is also sublime. Its cinematography is amazing, utilising both clever camera techniques to heighten and emphasise the emotion and stress of many scenes, while it’s got an interesting blend of light between the tyranny of the instructor, shown in quite a dark and stuffy way on screen, and the freedom of the young man when he is away from this, which is clearly a lot lighter on screen.
However, the most impressive achievement of this film was its score. Of course, on the face of things, the jazz score was just epic, but also, the choice to focus on the drums in this film was so perfect for the story, as they really mirrored the heart-pounding, thrilling nature of the plot, with that pounding sound also serving to constantly heighten the tension and excitement throughout.
Finally, the most interesting thing about this film is that you don’t actually need to know anything about jazz to love it. There are so many long, drawn-out musical numbers, including the climactic ten-minute piece, however they don’t ever come across as boring, as they always serve some purpose within the story, whether it be highlighting the rivalry, determination or depression, and it’s that that really keeps you intrigue during them.
Overall, this gets a 9.1, due to its stunning performances, thrilling story, amazing technical achievements and incredible heart-pounding atmosphere.