Sunday, October 26, 2014

Movie Review: "Whiplash"

Whiplash is an intense, fantastic film that asks the question, how far is too far to push someone to harness their talent?

Andrew (Miles Teller) is a freshman at the prestigious Shaffer Conservatory of Music in New York City (standing in for Juilliard). He's a talented yet cocky drummer who dreams of being a true great in the jazz world. While practicing one day he is spotted by Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), the black-clad hardass who rules the school, and handpicks those he believes to be talented to join his studio band.

But while Fletcher would love to find the next Charlie Parker or Buddy Rich, what he seems to be even better at is terrorizing his students, hurling slurs, curses, even furniture at those who provoke his wrath. (His philosophy is not knowing the answer can be worse than being wrong.) But does he do it because he likes to break these students down, or because he believes this is what separates the truly talented from the pretenders, those who truly want it from those who are lazy and squander their gifts?

Fletcher takes an interest in Andrew, but that interest is tremendously fickle. Andrew is determined to prove himself worthy of Fletcher's faith, even if that means practicing until his hands bleed all over his drums, and closing his emotions and his life to anything but his music. (The scene where Andrew explains to his girlfriend why they shouldn't see each other any longer reminded me a little of John Malkovich's breakup with Michelle Pfeiffer in Dangerous Liaisons.) He doesn't have any friends, and his father (Paul Reiser) doesn't quite believe in him, but Andrew only wants to be great.

The road to greatness, however, is a tremendously difficult one, and Fletcher exposes every one of Andrew's vulnerabilities, pushing him to the breaking point. Andrew has to decide whether to try and see if he really is as talented as he believes he is, or if he should simply believe what Fletcher has been telling him, that he just doesn't have it. But what do you do when your single-handed pursuit of a dream doesn't end the way you hope it will?

I've been a huge fan of Miles Teller since he appeared in Rabbit Hole a few years ago, but it was his performance in The Spectacular Now, one of the best movies I saw last year, that truly demonstrated his acting prowess. He is terrific in this movie, simultaneously cocky and desperate for Fletcher's approval. His dogged determination to get the chance to play during a music festival was painful to watch yet utterly mesmerizing.

If all you know J.K. Simmons from are his comic role as the father in Juno or his Farmers' Insurance pitchman responsibilities, you will be utterly bowled over by his performance in this movie. He is a drill sergeant, a bully, a heartless bastard everyone is aching to deck, yet Simmons occasionally lets glimpses of the man's vulnerability break through his a--hole exterior. Simmons has complete command of nearly every scene he is in, even without saying a word. If there is any justice, he will be among the nominees for Best Supporting Actor at this year's Oscars—this is far from a lovable performance, but it is totally riveting.

Running less than two hours, Whiplash puts you through the ringer, but like Andrew and Fletcher's other students, you willingly take it all in. While the plot of the movie may not surprise you, the performances—and the heart—of this movie will wow you. See it.

No comments:

Post a Comment