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Movie Review: Whiplash
written & directed by Damien Chazelle

"Not my f*cking tempo!"

'Whiplash' is written and directed by the youthful 30-year-old French-American filmmaker, Damien Chazelle. He is a guy who is carrying credited work on several productions between multiple cinematic genres, though with the most success as a result of his own critically acclaimed debut, 'Guy and Medeline on a Park Bench'. Just like Chazelle’s debut, 'Whiplash' circulates around a highly personal and heavily jazz-emphasized narrative, which equally attempts to outbalance the fractured love between women and art, respectively, as it is so frequently the case with passionate and gifted artists.

Damien Chazelle’s latest film, however, seems to stand as the most subjective, since both the instrument, the music and the mentor is inspired by the director's own life experiences, and not the least his destined quest to become a remarkable musician. Nevertheless, the director has stated that his abilities are hardly near those of which are portrayed in the film, and that the film-medium has always been his first and greatest love. So let us take a look at whether or not it was the right choice that Damien Chazelle took, when he chose to dedicate his life to movies instead of music.


The Story
In 'Whiplash', we follow the 19-year-old drummer Andrew Neiman and his targeted vision of becoming the next great genius in the elegant world of jazz music. Andrew is hard working, talented, and not the least certain about his dream, and when he is finally accepted into Schaffer Conservatory things start to suddenly look a great deal brighter. Besides, he is very much aware of the infamous conductor, Terence Fletcher, who is looking for a new alternative drummer for his band. And although Andrew feels both confident and ceaseless on the drums, you will be everything but, once Fletcher verbally anesthetize every single sense of your body, and leaves you abruptly unable to reach anywhere near the demanded musical or mental standards. Fletcher does not only test the musical skills of his students, but also their mental stability and not the least willpower. Andrew is pushed further past both his personal and practiced limits in the unpleasant company of Fletcher’s sharply controlled gesticulations. But despite this "tactless torture" of which Andrew so inhumanly is exposed to, he has no intention of “canceling his confidence”, so to speak. He knows damn well that he was born for this industry, and there is absolutely nothing, that is going to stand in the way of him and his great dream of complete and absolute success.

So how does one guarantee to give the audience the best possible "opening act" for a film of this caliber? Simple. You open with slight but persistent hits of a drum, which then gradually and in a presumptuous pace, rises to something that is almost comparable to the shots of a loud and explosive machine gun. Additionally, and in the same scene, we are introduced to the two “fighting forces” of the film – the slightly nervous and rather clumsy aspiring drummer, Andrew Neiman, as well as the almost dictatorial and power-hungry mentor, Terence Fletcher. In those short opening minutes, you already have a great grip and sense of the story, which also, through the frenetic introductory drum solo, almost virtually heralds its audience about the amazingly high and fast paced “arc of excitement”, which the film in its relatively short course is trying to squeeze to its absolute breaking point. The film and its dramaturgical execution is perhaps slightly mediocre at times, circulating around classic phrases and movie-typical habits, but still, there is definitely no way seeing past just how brain-shockingly hard-hitting it is, when it comes to the powerful and life-affirming story about a man’s dream of success.

But what, in turn, elevates the film to completely unimaginable heights, is the dualistic war between the two main characters in the wide-open battlefield of musical creation itself. A fight, that respectively provokes the worst in the conductor and the best in the artist. The combination of Fletcher’s crafty insults and Andrew’s incredible ability to take himself beyond his max-point, is what ultimately causes the film to drum away for a virtually unbridled pace, while torpedoing all mediocre melodramas in its path. Actually, this film frequently achieves the same exciting heights as a tense and nerve-wracking bomb disposal scene, which every so often adorns even the most exciting thriller dramas. 'Whiplash' gives you – together with the central character of the film – both sweaty palms, butterflies in your stomach and an almost unstoppable galloping heart rate, which pretty much falls seamlessly in sync with the fast and relentless drum beat that completely dominates the enormous soundscape of the film. When it comes down to it, you can’t do nothing but sympathize with Andrew, as soon as the intimidating Terence Fletcher strikes from every possible angle; both verbally, mentally and physically. This is a man, who is prepared to beat up the mentality of a person, to actively up the standards of a beat, all of which is originating from that exact same individual. It is both constructive and destructive, and cinematically speaking, there isn’t even the slightest of doubts that 'Whiplash' flawlessly hits almost all the right notes throughout this incredible filmic voyage.

'Whiplash' is certainly a catchy title, which furthermore can be used in an exemplary way, to describe the film itself as well as its prominent aggressiveness in more than one form. It is first and foremost a film that lashes itself thirty feet ahead in an ever-increasing pace, until finally hitting you so unexpectedly hard from behind, that you are left with something resembling a metaphorical and musical whiplash. As an audience you are more or less whipped to shreds from start to finish, until you have no clue whatsoever of what is up and what is down… And if that wasn’t crazy enough, Fletcher continues to slap you across the face with his dominant presence, in his wild and ambitious attempt to get Andrew to keep an acceptable tone – even if you can’t actually say that Fletcher does the same. This completely uncontrollable tour de force of a film is also held up primarily by moments, as well as a near perfect execution. As mentioned earlier, 'Whiplash' perhaps isn’t a miracle when it comes to either a perfectly written drama, or a total and thorough character development. But this film, however, has no doubt of what it can do, how it can do it, and how well the film actually triumphs in its close to perfectly designed plot points.

‘Whiplash’ wisely illuminates the most dominant storyline as it moves forward, and further electrifies the “insane powerhouse”, that is its two buzzing central characters. And as the story gradually progresses, all the insignificant surroundings are slowly washed away, in favor of what is most important – exactly how you would do it yourself, consciously or unconsciously, if you ever dedicated your life to such profound passion, that places itself at a level so high and ultra-advanced as that of drumming. As an audience, we have no use for excessively extended family discussions or love stories that wasn’t ever going to succeed in the first place. We know where the story is heading, we understand what it wants to do, and we gladly accept this choice with open arms – and not the least wide-open eyes, once the flaming intensity finally hits you. It isn’t Andrew Neiman, either, who in himself requires a deep character study, the point is that we must be able to position ourselves in the low stool behind the drum kit, see the awaiting crowd before our eyes, and achieve that selfsame success, which we all so eternally dream of. But until then, you should certainly use two hours or less to experience this furious emotional rollercoaster ride, withholding its very own phenomenal and cinematic dream scenario – something, which 'Whiplash' is able to elegantly orchestrate through the continuous combination of pictures and sound – and with the craziest sense of confidence, as well. And it isn’t every movie either, which can brag about having two potential and powerful finales, and if you miss this movie in the theater, you have probably made one of the biggest mistakes in your life. This is a film that exists in its own league and it should certainly be experienced up on the big screen…

The Acting
What really drives the rhythmic elements and dramatic musical sequences in ‘Whiplash’, is an impressive and explosive power performance by a dazzling Miles Teller. A seriously underrated actor, who possesses exactly the right balance between a clumsy introverted teenager and a determined strong-willed musician, and therefore, he is also perfect for the film. It isn’t difficult to buy both sides of him, containing his awkward personality as well as his impressive musical talent – especially because Teller actually drummed since he was 15 years old. However, he has never actually experimented with jazz music, although we can certainly say that this is virtually impossible to see. As soon as Teller drums away with a speed and precision that is more than impressive to look at and listen to, then you just know, that he was the right choice for the role of Andrew Neiman.

All the numerous drum solos in the film are exported explosively out of the screen and all the way down among the audiences in the cinema. This remains, however, a kind of spacious experience, which in turn can provide all the senses with a wild and intense experience. But despite of the compelling pull of this specific element, the music only reaches the outer hairs on the skin, which certainly rises due to the overwhelming impact of the film. But as mentioned earlier, 'Whiplash' is undoubtedly a complete experience, and there is certainly one person who makes sure to crawl deep under your skin – someone who might also make the hairs on your arms stand up, but in this context, it is due to a decidedly deep fear. The one I’m talking about is, of course, the angry facade behind the tempered and frightening screaming mentor… none other than J.K. Simmons!

When speaking of actors who actually dominate the screen, then there is no doubt that Simmons falls right into this exact category. It is of course a rather fantastic character, which Damien Chazelle has written, but I really can’t imagine others in the role than precisely J.K. Simmons. As an audience, it isn’t us who do the drumming, neither is it us who do the shouting, and yet, it is us who are left behind totally exhausted and gasping for air, once Fletcher dominates the big cinema screen. One could easily dive into all sorts of details while adding plenty of variegated adjectives to thoroughly describe Fletcher in a convincing manner. But honestly, I simply think that you should experience both the film and its performances for yourself. It is truly a dangerously good piece of actor’s craft, with a complete and almost perfect delivery by both J.K. Simmons and Miles Teller.

The Technical Aspect
The visual composite symphony of images that the film provides us with is just as good at keeping up the tempo, when it comes to its almost "retina rhythmic" portrayal of a story about mental and mortal success. As an audience we dive directly into a wild and jazzy universe, with lively moving camera settings, as well as intense and motion-reduced close-ups. We haven’t got the slightest of doubt at which point there is complete focus on the musical approach of the film, and when we slowly and indiscreetly moves even closer to the dramatic and unsettling intensity that ‘Whiplash’ has as well. Also, the entire spectacle is kept constantly moving by the eminent controlled editing, which actually is an artistically composed piece of rhythmic perfection in itself. A potpourri of perfect tectonic changes of tempo, delivered with a cool technical flair that simply never lets its audience or the sense of musical dominance fall to the ground.

The Soundscape
Occasionally, 'Whiplash' hits you so hard with its eccentric power-punch of musicality, that you actually have some doubt of whether it is the hasty drum beat of the film or one's own constant heartbeat, which is pounding the loudest. Despite the jazz-typical associations with the more formal and sophisticated elements, you can certainly leave both blazer and bow tie at home, once you discover how Fletcher conquers the entire claustrophobic scenario of the film, and instead presents said elegance of the genre as a devilish vibrant pandemonium. The music is undoubtedly still jazzy and great to listen to, but it is precisely this ambivalent atmosphere, which adds that extra layer of frightening unpredictability. Sometimes the film feels like a nice breath of fresh air, and other times as a wild and destructive tornado.

The jazz in the film almost has a sparkling kind of unique musicality about it, and yet there is a certain autocratic mentor present, who is surely going to make all this elegancy boil over. It is exactly this strong contrast between the exquisite jazz and the demoralized conducting that makes this film so incredibly powerful – whether it is an authentic portrayal of the genre or not. Maybe it isn’t exactly a beautifully carved slice of joy and happiness, but it is both impressive and puffing poetic in its execution, and all the grandiose scenes of the film are always presented at its most booming and not the least resounding pace. If you can’t surrender to this sensory compilation, which the film so masterfully orchestrates, then it’s all on you.


SHORT SUMMARY // Words cannot describe the intense emotional heights, which 'Whiplash' manages to reach in such perfected style, that only a standing ovation is in its place. The film presents its audience with a person who is willing to go all the way, and even further, and he proudly carries his soul, heart, brain and of course the faithful drumsticks in his baggage. He seems to never look back on this ambitious quest for recognition – not even for the trail of blood, sweat and tears, which he has left behind. Maybe you have seen all this before, maybe you have even heard it before, but you have never experienced something quite like this before, that’s for sure. 'Whiplash' is an enthusiastic cinematic tour de force, and also one of the most immersive movie experiences I have had in the past ten years or so.