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“Whiplash” stakes claim as an indie frontrunner

Independent films have grown increasingly popular as of late. 2014 was filled with these types of movies that seemingly came out of nowhere, and “Whiplash” was one of the frontrunners.

Miles Teller plays Andrew Neiman, an aspiring jazz drummer attending Shaffer Conservatory in New York City. Terence Fletcher, played by J.K. Simmons, is a well-respected instructor at the university who takes notice of Neiman and recruits him for his studio band. Neiman's excitement to join the band is short-lived however; as Fletcher's brutal methods of teaching prove to be immensely taxing, physically and emotionally.

Brutal is an understatement of how cruel some of Fletcher’s methods are. Throughout the film it is difficult to tell if he is one of the protagonists or antagonists, if he is doing this to truly better his students or if he is just trying to find his own Buddy Rich. A recurring question the movie poses is where does an instructor draw the line? Is being one of the greats worth losing one’s humanity?

Neiman desires to be great, and this is shown in his decision-making throughout the film. His passion allows him to endure the physical and emotional abuse put forth by Fletcher, and the battle of wits that ensues between the two actors is where the movie shines.

Damien Chazelle's writing and direction fuels the intensity of the performances. Chazelle himself struggled to make it as a jazz drummer in high school, and stated that he had an intense music instructor who was an inspiration for Terence Fletcher’s character in the film. His musical experience is evident in the script, and the quality of the jazz music is no doubt a testament to Chazelle’s guiding hand in the production.

The music itself is captivating, and Fletcher’s ferocious conducting is not only the product of good acting. Simmons graduated with a music degree from the University of Montana and minored in composition and conducting, which contributed greatly to his role in “Whiplash.”

Teller also possessed some experience in rock drumming tracing back to his teen years. Rock drumming and jazz drumming are entirely different however, and for two months Teller had to train three to four hours each day under professional drummer Nate Lang. Because of his hard work, Teller was able to actually play, in portions, the difficult pieces that Neiman performs in the film. The fluidity and intensity of Neiman’s drumming however, is more of a testament to Tom Cross' editing.

The last 30 minutes of this film will have viewers’ eyes locked onto the drama; it is one of the most emotionally gripping finales I have ever seen.

“Whiplash” is an impressive feat by 30-year-old Damien Chazelle, winning three Oscars including the well-deserved Best Supporting Actor recognition awarded to J.K. Simmons. It is a fast-paced, full-throttled drama that will have viewers on the edge of their seat until the last drum stroke.