Going to the cinema should be an experience. Whether that be an uplifting, joyous one, or a solemn, melancholic affair; triggering reactions and an emotional response from the viewer is undoubtedly the aim of the game. So for Whiplash, the second feature film from the extremely gifted auteur Damien Chazelle, it’s all about the experience, being a film that evokes such a range of feelings. It’s unbearably intense; it’s electric, exhilarating, uncomfortable, charming… To quote the very worst cliché in the world of film criticism: this truly is a roller coaster of a ride, and by the time you step off, you just want to go and join the back of the queue so that you can experience it all over again.
Miles Teller plays Andrew, a talented, unflinching drummer with aspirations of getting to the very top – using renowned musician Buddy Rich as his inspiration. Andrew is then pushed right to the very limit by his unforgiving instructor Fletcher, played with a breathtaking conviction by J.K. Simmons. He demands nothing but the best of his pupils, striving for perfection – and that’s exactly what Andrew strives to achieve, by any means necessary.
The story itself doesn’t sound like it would be one that is so deserving of such high acclaim, but it’s that understated nature which serves Whiplash so well. You don’t need big explosions, shootouts or car chases to mesmerise and compel an audience. You need strong characters and a fine screenplay, and Whiplash boasts both. You don’t need to play a musical instrument for this tale to resonate with you: it’s all about being pushed to your very limits; to test your own conviction and aspirations, and exactly how far you can go and what you will do to achieve your goals. The intense nature of this piece is enhanced by the score, which is effectively just the drumming we hear our protagonist play, and the film plays along to this beat; the narrative in tune with the music. It’s fast paced, unrelenting and perfectly melodic, just as jazz drumming should be. It informs the ambiance remarkably, though it’s in the performances where this production truly comes into its element; with Simmons particularly standing out. He’s terrifying, he’s nasty and vindictive, but there’s a playful nature to him which allows the viewer to both love and despise the man in equal measure.
Whiplash is a film that will have you transfixed from the very opening moment to the last. By the end you may even want to stand up and just let out a huge scream, such is the adrenaline provoked, it’s almost a relief that this film has come to an end, as you became so immersed in it, it became almost tiring. Chazelle’s next feature is again about jazz music, and again stars Miles Teller. Even if it’s only half as good as this particular endeavour, we’re in for a treat.