Whiplash is a 2014 American independent drama film written and directed by Damien Chazelle. The film stars Miles Teller as Andrew, a first-year student and drummer at the fictional music school Schaffer Conservatory, and J.K. Simmons as Terrance Fletcher, leader of the school’s competitive jazz band Andrew is recruited to. Whiplash is a feature-length version of Chazelle’s 18-minute short film. The short film starred Johnny Simmons in the role of the student and J.K. Simmons (no relation to Johnny) as the band leader. The short film won critical acclaim and praise on the awards circuit, becoming a hit at the Sundance Film Festival. This praise led to investors interested in a feature-length version. J.K, who played the role of Fletcher in the short film, and whose performance was the reason for the critical acclaim, gleefully returned to the role.
Chazelle’s script is an excellent one. The character of Terrance Fletcher is an intense, angry, foul-mouthed, oftentimes wholly inappropriate monster, and Chazelle nor Simmons hold back when attempting to portray this. Nor do Chazelle and Miles Teller slack on showing just how negative an effect Fletcher’s unsavory teaching methods have on people.
The film continues to go even further. For as much of a monster Terrance Fletcher is, the one thing Andrew wants is to please the notorious band leader. His drive and determination knows no boundaries. Andrew subjects himself to extreme physical and psychological pain in order to achieve this goal. It is, honestly, extremely disturbing to watch this young man put himself through so much pain.
Before becoming a filmmaker, Chazelle was an aspiring jazz musician in high school. He based the character of Fletcher off of a very intense high school instructor, although Fletcher is admittedly “an extreme version” of the teacher. Whiplash is a film that, above all, lives on the performances of its two main characters. Both Teller and Simmons give performances so effectively disturbing in different ways, you cannot help but be completely engrossed.
In addition to great performances, Whiplash also benefits from great cinematography from Sharone Meir. Meir effectively matches the darkness of the plot with equally dark and interesting lighting and rather vibrant color schemes.
I have never been exposed to jazz, but I must say that the soundtrack by Justin Hurwitz, which combines popular and electic jazz standards with an original, jazz-infused soundtrack is extremely catchy and very good at using music to match up with the character’s emotions and intensity.
Whiplash is a film that is as dark and intense as its two principle characters. It is a story of passion, fear, determination, struggle, and manipulation. Here, Damien Chazelle proves himself to be an excellent filmmaker in almost every aspect. Whiplash features a great script, flawless acting, a very competent jazz soundtrack, and some excellent cinematography. It’s no puzzle why this engrossing drama was an awards contender at the Oscars. At the 87th Academy Awards, Whiplash won Best Film Editing, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Supporting Actor for Simmons, and was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture. It is a truly excellent film that, most impressively, showcases the acting talents of the usually “cuddly” and approachable J.K. Simmons. It also put Miles Teller on the map and proved that Damien Chazelle is a competent filmmaker in every respect, allowing him to move on to bigger and even better projects. I highly recommend this film to everyone. I suspect those experienced in or interested in making music will find it even more intense than I did.