whiplash Greetings again from the darkness. The pursuit of greatness is not always pretty. No matter if your dream is athletics, dancing, music or some other; you can be sure hard work and sacrifice will be part of your routine. You will likely have a mentor, teacher or coach whose job is to cultivate your skills while pushing you to new limits. This film questions whether the best approach is intimidation or society’s current preferred method of nurturing.

Miles Teller plays Andrew, a first year student at an elite Manhattan music conservatory. Andrew dreams of being a great jazz drummer in the vein of Buddy Rich. When offered a rare shot at the top jazz orchestra, Andrew quickly discovers the conductor is a breed unlike anything he has ever encountered. The best movie comparison I can offer for JK Simmons’ portrayal of Terence Fletcher is R Lee Ermey’s Drill Instructor in Full Metal Jacket. This is no warm-hearted Mr Holland’s Opus. Fletcher bullies, intimidates, humiliates and uses every imaginable form of verbal abuse to push his musicians, and especially young Andrew, to reach for greater heights.

Andrew and Fletcher go head to head through the entire movie, with Fletcher’s mental torment turning this into a psychological thriller … albeit with tremendous music. We witness Andrew shut out all pieces of a personal life, and even take on some of Fletcher’s less desirable traits. Andrew’s diner break-up with his girlfriend (Melissa Benoist) is much shorter, but just as cold as the infamous opening scene in The Social Network. At a small dinner party, Andrew loses some of the sweetness he inherited from his dad (Paul Reiser), and unloads some Fletcherisms on some unsuspecting family friends.

Writer/Director Damien Chazelle has turned his Sundance award-winning short film into a fascinatingly brutal message movie that begs for discussion and debate. The open-ended approach is brilliant, though I found myself initially upset at the missing clean wrap that Hollywood so often provides. What price greatness? Is comeuppance a reward? Are mentors cruel to be kind? For the past few years, I have been proclaiming that Miles Teller (The Spectacular Now) is the next John Cusack. Perhaps that bar is too low. Teller just gets better with each film. His relentless energy draws us in, and we find ourselves in his corner … even though this time, he’s not the greatest guy himself. Still, as strong as Teller is, the film is owned by JK Simmons. Most think of him as the dad in Juno, or the ever-present insurance spokesman on TV, but he previously flashed his bad side as the white supremacist in “Oz“. Even that, doesn’t prepare us for Simmons’ powerhouse performance … just enough humanity to heighten his psychological torturing of musicians.

You should see this one for Simmons’ performance. Or see it for the up-and-coming Teller. Enjoy the terrific music, especially Duke Ellington’s “Caravan”. See it for the talking points about teachers, society and personal greatness. See it for any or all these reasons – just don’t tell director Damien Chazelle “good job“.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you want to see JK Simmons in a likely contender for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar OR you have been waiting for someone to prove a drum solo can actually be worthy of your attention

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you have no interest in exploring what is involved in attaining greatness, regardless of the talent or skill

watch the trailer:



5 Responses to WHIPLASH (2014)

  1. Brandi Cofer says:

    David – This film has been very high on my list of Fall films to see. Really glad to hear JK Simmons’ brutal tactics go beyond what we see in the trailer, and I’ve enjoyed Miles Teller since his role as the lovable side-kick in the remake of Footloose. As a fellow music lover, it’s been a while since we’ve had a great film centered around musician struggles. Can’t wait to see it.

    • Brandi, there is no way they could put most of what Simmons says and does in the trailer. And I will say, that while the story focuses on a young jazz drummer, it really is about the quest to be great and what role a coach/mentor plays. That said, the music parts are awesome. Let me know what you think after you see it.

  2. Azitta Baker says:

    Hi David
    Thanks for your review of Whiplash which prompted me to watch it.
    Since my daughter was born my spare time has become pretty limited and I appreciate watching films even more. I think you give a consistent guide on what to see and what to ‘skip’ and even account for different tastes. Whiplash was just brilliant, I found the open ending perfect and don’t think a wrapped up conclusion would have proved any more satisfying. Maybe it was just disappointing that the film had to end at all!
    Ps I was wondering whether you review all the films you watch?

    • Hi Azitta, Thanks so much for your kind words and compliment. I’m so glad you liked Whiplash, as it is one of my top movies of 2014 and I have referred it to many people. Your point about the ending is very true, and I’m so relieved we didn’t get stuck with a typical Hollywood ending – even if it caught me a bit off guard at first! To answer your “PS”, I review most of the movies I watch, but not all. I do try to put some thought into each movie before writing about it. What’s the point if I don’t believe there is anything to say?? Haha, but seriously, I watch too many movies but it’s a habit I can’t seem to break. Thanks for the note and please comment anytime!

  3. Brandi Cofer says:

    I realized I never wrote back to you after I saw this film. I find myself thinking about it every so often. I saw it for second time this weekend before it left theaters for good. I went back to focus on the music this time and it did not disappoint!

    How far can we push ourselves past the limit to find greatness? Will we find it even if we do? What a fine, fine line Fletcher walks…right on the edge of (his) moral necessity and insanity. Having been a conductor of several bands, it is very easy to imagine how the power you have can overtake you. You expect perfection and nothing less. And when you know that the musicians are capable of it, but won’t reach down into their gut to find it, it haunts you. I hope those who saw it/see it, realize that Fletcher can be in the form of a coach, mentor, trainer, etc. Don’t we want our musicians/teams to be the best? Does a little blood, sweat, and tears hurt too much for perfection?

    I walked out of the film feeling complete. As Andrew gives control back over to Fletcher during the final part of his solo (Fletcher guides him through the decrescendo and crescendo), it WAS the clean-wrap that Hollywood likes to provide…to me anyway. The bond between a musician and their conductor/director is one of complete trust. Fletcher trusted Andrew and Andrew trusted Fletcher for the first time in that moment. Andrew became “one of the greats,” and Fletcher found his Charlie Parker.

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