(Damien Chazelle, 2014)
Reviewed by Dave Lancaster
Summary: The indie film breakout of the year, 'Whiplash' is the 'Full Metal Jacket' of jazz drumming movies (not that there was that much contention for the title). Superbly powerful.
Those jazz musicians have it tough. As if the music's rapid changes weren't challenging enough, sometimes you get an absolute brute as your bandleader. JK Simmons gives what could be the performance of the year as Fletcher, a drill sergeant style music academy professor. He decides the fate of the young hopefuls who are determined to make it in the big city jazz scene. Get through him and you could get to Carnegie Hall but you'll have to survive the abuse - objects being thrown at you if you miss a beat, slaps the face to keep you in time, unforgiving humiliation if you're a whisker off key.
Andrew (Miles Teller) is determined to make it as a pro musician. It's his life but the two men clash with spectacular fireworks. To detail how they create sparks would spoil the twists of the narrative but suffice to say this becomes one of the screen's great cinematic rivalries. The turnarounds of power and stinging dialogue recall the classic Hollywood backstabbing masterwork 'All About Eve' but with a harder 'Full Metal Jacket' edge to it.
But there are also moments of great beauty in writer/director Damien Chazelle's expansion of his own Sundance Festival-wooing short film. When the music fires up, Chazelle's flair as a director matches it with wonderful buoyancy, soaring the harsh drama to much welcomed cathartic releases. Indeed, 'Whiplash' is constructed and executed like a jazz piece - it has the push & pull and dark & light contradictions and improvisations of Miles Davis' 'Bitches Brew'.
While aspiring musicians may appreciate the film's backdrop a little more than other audiences, 'Whiplash' - like the best jazz records themselves - possesses a universal truth and polarising power. A film to play and replay.