Whiplash (2014)

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*****/*****

The hiss of a snare. The boom of a bass drum. The harsh rattle of a symbol. What more could you expect from a film about Jazz music and drums than to have a faultless score?

With an intricate soundtrack, and carefully selected cinematography, held together by perfectly woven editing, Whiplash is hard to criticise.

Directed by Damien Chazelle, a drummer in his own right, Whiplash surrounds a young aspiring drummer, who has hopes of becoming one of the best musicians in the world. Enrolled in the top music school in New York, and the world, Andrew Neiman (played by Miles Teller) is taught under the terrifyingly brutal instructor Terence Fletcher (played by J. K. Simmons), known for his short temper and cruel methods of teaching. The film follows Neiman’s journey to despair from Fletchers’ determination to find the next Charlie Parker.

Amongst this films’ many merits, is the acting skill displayed. J K Simmons brings a harsh and unwavering air to his character, making the audience feel tense as soon as Fletcher enters a room. A complete and absolute control over the other characters in the film, including Neiman, with an intensity that holds the films’ most climactic scenes in place. Matching this, is Teller’s characters determination to be the best, and to please Fletcher. A character you can’t help but feel sorry for, Teller’s initial muted performance of Andrew is effective in the way that pressure builds within his character. The importance of this is the development of character and confidence, and so forth the development of tension that comes to an explosive blow in the films’ final scene.

The cinematography is wonderful in the way that each singular shot looks as though it has been carefully hand-picked to have the perfect motivation. Each shot has its’ own purpose which can be singled out and picked apart. With extreme close ups of hands and drums in a blur of metal and flesh as Neiman’s hands are ripped to shreds by sheer force of will to be the best drummer. Match cuts of eyes as Teller and Simmons stare intently at each other, unwavering in their power struggle. And of course, framing that helps to capture everything inside the frame, excluding the outside world from this intense world of music and pain and struggle and reward.

It is hard to find fault in a film that covers all bases so beautifully and captures a kind of tension that has the audience on the edge of their seats from the very first beat of a drum right until the very last. There is something quite magical about a film that can manage to do this not just after the first viewing – but after every viewing.

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