The circlejerking of this film on sites such as Reddit, IMDB, and other sites all over the internet has been nothing short of overwhelming to those who have yet to see it. The thousands of word of mouth responses that have sung its praises and drummed up anticipation gave the film the impossible task of matching the crescendo of praise that has repeatedly been heaped upon it. So to report that Whiplash is nothing short of absolutely extraordinary is greatly pleasing. Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) is a student at New York's Shaffer Conservatory music school, there he joins the community band under the stewardship of Terence Fletcher (J.K Simmons) as they compete at a national Jazz festival. The film's central story is based on a student-teacher relationship, where the student shows promise and the teacher is determined to squeeze that potential out of him in ways that make Scrubs’Dr Cox’s teaching methods look as though they wouldn’t mentally harm a five year old.
Terence Fletcher’s methods at bringing the very best out of his students is the main theme of film – when is too far too far? Fletcher’s methods of teaching reassemble that of the Drill Sergeant from Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket. He frequently berates his students for either rushing or dragging or failing to keep within the correct tempo. He humiliates them and puts them through extensive practice sessions which leads to anxiety attacks and injuries where sweat, blood and tears are literally shed. This is all in the aim of driving the students to become the best they could possibly be through fear and intimidation, and the film arguably sets a dangerous precedent by showing this to be an effective method of teaching. To me, personally, an outsider to the world of music (I can barely play the triangle) the film doesn’t fully show how some could be discouraged rather than encouraged by such teaching. I’m not denying this wasn’t discussed, but I feel it could have been expanded upon.
That aside, I do feel that director Damien Chazelle (who based much of the film on his own experiences) leaves the audience to their own devices to decide whether Fletcher crossed the line in regards to his teaching methods and whether he was driven by his own desire to create the new Buddy Rich or whether he had the student’s best interest at heart. This leads me on to J.K Simmons who is simply outstanding as the terrifying music teacher striving for absolute perfection. His use of hand gestures to halt music gives him an air of a brutal dictator demanding an execution and his foul mouthed tirades releases the tension allowing the audience to laugh, albeit with the added safety of cinema screen between them and the psychotic teacher, following the intense musical sequences.
Miles Teller, quickly establishing himself as one the industries’ most promising newcomers, is simply outstanding as well. Teller brilliantly shows his character’s drive to become one of the best and his desire to do that in any way possible often leaves him shaken, emotionally damaged and crying out in pain. Both Teller and Simmons steal the show and tower over the underdeveloped supporting characters and overcome any contrivance within the plot to make Whiplash an intense and unforgettable experience.
However, as much as Teller and Simmons steal the show and propel the film to greatness, director Damien Chazelle also deserves a standing ovation. Damien Chazelle and his editor, Tom Cross, gives the film an astonishing intensity that leaves the audience as sweaty and fatigued as Andrew himself. The final drum solo is an incredible piece of dramatically intense filmmaking and whilst the film’s plot does have one or two elements of contrivance (lost music sheets for example), the excellent dialogue, incredible student-teacher relationship and mostly cliché free inspirational story really does make Whiplash one of the best films, if not the best film, of 2014.