Reel Talk: Whiplash is an exhilarating, thought-provoking indie drama

Whiplash-5547.cr2 By Sean van der Heijden

Finally got to see Whiplash this weekend and my suggestion is—catch it while it’s still in theaters, you won’t be disappointed. Despite hearing rave reviews from a bunch of people, I was blown away by how taut and impressive this movie is. Shot in just 19 days by first-time writer-director Damian Chazelle, the movie charts a college freshman’s time in music school under the instruction of his satanic band teacher, Fletcher.

And “satanic” is probably the nicest adjective to describe him. Played with fierce determination by the ubiquitous J.K. Simmons, Fletcher is a tormented genius who abuses his students in pretty much every way possible—verbally, physically, emotionally, psychologically. While his inventive curse words and raging antics are certainly a sight to see, his mind games are far more terrifying and really add depth to the character. It’s one of the best performances of the year.

Also fantastic is Miles Teller as Andrew, the young drummer determined to be one of the “greats.” While most of the time he comes off as cocky and self-righteous, I found myself rooting for him nonetheless—if only because of what he goes through. With blistered, bloody hands, he certainly has the drive to practice, but needs to be pushed in order to truly achieve greatness.

This brings up one of the central questions of the film: how far is too far? How much is too much? Is throwing a chair at someone’s head considered too excessive, or is it a necessary step in helping someone be the best they can be? The film offers no definitive answers to these questions, but I would say: are the great musicians, students, or people the ones that need to be pushed, or the ones that can push themselves?

You’ll have to watch the film and decide for yourself—Chazelle certainly did a fantastic job at blurring that line. Also fantastic: basically everything else. The direction, the editing, the music, the sound, the cinematography—all are done to perfection. If your foot doesn’t tap to all the swinging jazz ensembles or if you’re not on the edge of your seat at one point or another, well, you must be watching a different movie. Whiplash sucks you in and holds you, breathless, till the very last second.

Overall: 9 out of 10.

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