Take the premise of High School Musical, who’s script has been written by Quentin Tarantino crossed with the boot camp parts of Full Metal Jacket and you’ll get an idea of the film you’re about to watch: Whiplash.
Whiplash (which is also the name of the main accompanying song by Hank Levy) is about a drummer named Andrew (played by Miles Teller), who after catching the eye of Terrence Fletcher (played by JK Simmons) the possibly psychotic band leader of the music college Andrew goes to, becomes the main drummer of the band.
That’s where the connection High School Musical ends. What we now get is one and a half hours of JK Simmons using every single cuss word under the sun against Miles Teller, with nothing off the cards. Ethnic slurs are used; f-bombs are dropped and family members are being verbally disrespected. That’s the Tarantino script. Now for Full Metal Jacket. During the first band practice after getting the timing wrong for what seems to be the hundredth time, Fletcher finally throws a chair at Andrew’s head, before slapping him repeatedly in the face to teach him about timing. That isn’t the first use of violence against our lead and it won’t be the last. Welcome to class.
JK Simmons is one of those actors that everyone knows from somewhere. Be it J. Jonah Jameson in Sam Raimi’s Spiderman films or Ellen Page’s father in Juno, everyone has that film that they’ve seen him in before. But Whiplash has to be the film that will win him an Oscar. The ferocity that Simmons brings lends him an air of menace which can be seen in every scene that he appears. Whenever he walks into a room, everyone falls completely silent, to the point you would be able to hear a pin drop. That coupled with his use of snatching the air when there is a single imperfection within his band makes us feel like the man is a single break away from total psychosis. Simmons ferocity is only levelled by Miles Teller’s determination to prove he is the best drummer of the band, to the point where Teller’s real blood is being spilled on the drum kit. But it all comes to fruition, just like JK Simmons Fletcher has planned, since we get to bear witness not just the best drum solos ever put to film but some of the best musical performances, with a nine minute drum solo near the end of the film being the crowning achievement. It’s the first time I have come away from a film and been genuinely exhausted after watching it
The film is akin to Hollywood blockbuster, with the story merely a device to bring the next big musical set piece along (the music is front and centre in the film) yet it differs enough from Hollywood narrative to give some flourish to the story. While some scenes might seem daft in other films (one scene where Andrew pulls himself from a car crash, covered in blood and still wanting to play the drums at a concert springs to mind) we the audience buy into it in Whiplash, as the sense of dedication that Teller brings to Andrew makes us believe that the character would do something that drastic.
The only real problem I had with the film was a romantic sub-plot which is set up early on in the film, which apart from two more scenes in the film doesn’t really pay off. It would have been fine to cut this from the film as it doesn’t add anything more to the story.
In conclusion, this film definitely isn’t for everyone. If you are sensitive to foul language or are not a fan of music then I’m not sure that this is the film for you. However, if you’ve ever had a teacher akin to the Demon Headmaster and need something cathartic or if you’re a fan of jazz music, then go see Whiplash, it is well worth your time.
Score: 9/10 An exhausting tour-de-force that never lets up.