A quick note before we begin: my weekly column is called The Redbox Review, and that implies that I will be reviewing a film you can find in your local rental kiosk. But, at this moment, there are an absurd amount of great films out in theaters and all you can rent right now (excluding last week’s Boyhood) is a bunch of drivel. So instead of causing myself unnecessary suffering, I decided to go see Whiplash this week instead of renting Let’s Be Cops. I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me.
Whiplash follows Andrew Neyman (relative newcomer Miles Teller), a drummer at a prestigious music conservatory who is determined to be the next Buddy Rich. Andrew catches the eye of respected instructor Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) and is picked to be part of the conservatory’s top band. But Fletcher is maniacal in his pursuit to bring out the best in his students, and Andrew soon realizes the path to legend is one paved in pain and suffering.
If Whiplash was a mainstream, wide-release production, it would have been an inspiring story about a young man realizing his dreams and learning how to succeed from his genius teacher. Luckily, Whiplash is not that film. Newbie director Damien Chazelle has no interest in inspiring you; he wants to beat you into the ground. You might not think a film about a jazz drummer could possibly be “intense,” but that’s the only word to describe the goings-on in this riveting piece of work.
Chazelle keeps you on the edge of your seat for the entirety of the film, hardly giving you a chance to catch your breath. In the world of Whiplash, music is not just a hobby. Music is not fun. Music is life. I can’t imagine many people watching the film and immediately wanting to become a famous jazz musician; it’s not exactly portrayed as a positive endeavor. Andrew Neyman doesn’t look like he’s having a good time for a second; becoming a legend is not something he wants to do, it’s something he has to do.
Miles Teller’s fantastic performance truly makes you feel the pain of the competitive jazz field. Teller brings an intensity to the role that makes for a punishing film. He’s not particularly likeable, but you still want him to make it through everything that gets thrown his way. He’s only bested by J.K. Simmons, whose character could easily be described as psychopathic. Simmons makes a perfect antagonist; his character is manipulating, cruel and unforgiving, but you know he’s doing it all for the love of his craft. He’s almost never villainous, but he’s a remarkably great villain. In the end, the clash between Teller and Simmons leads to a whirlwind of an ending that is anything but cliché and left my jaw on the floor.
It’s honestly hard to say much else about Whiplash. I absolutely loved it and would recommend it to anybody, even those with absolutely zero interest in jazz music. It’s more exciting and intense than the grand majority of action flicks, it boasts some great performances by actors both old and new, and it might even make you want to listen to some classic jazz tunes. I really wouldn’t change much of anything about it, and I’m incredibly excited to see where youngsters Teller and Chazelle go in the future. This is shaping up to be the strongest year of Oscar nominees in a good, long while.
Zach Johnson can be reached at email@example.com.