Cast: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Melissa Benoist, Paul Reiser
Director: Damien Chazelle
Rating: R13 (Offensive language & content that may disturb)
Running time: 107 mins
Verdict: Meet the Darth Vader of jazz
Whiplash is well named, not just for the piece of music that features throughout but because its two leads are both giant pains in the neck and the audience will recoil at their performances.
At its centre is young Andrew Neyman (Teller) as a young aspiring jazz drummer attending a New York music school that's a stand-in for the likes of Juilliard. He's committed to the point of unhealthy obsession with being the next great jazz drummer in a world that has trouble telling its Gene Krupa from its Art Blakey, if it cares at all. But that's his thing. It makes him a pain to be a father or a friend to and the way Miles Teller - a world away from his previous screen adventures - plays him, you can't help admire his blood-blistered commitment.
Then there's his tutor, Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) who may first come on like the Yoda of BeBop as he talkes young Andrew into the college's studio band, but is soon getting all Darth Vader on his case and the case of every other gifted musician in the ensemble. Played with psychotic mood swings and volcanic range by Simmons - who is better known for his nice guy roles, though he played a white supremacist in HBO show Oz - Fletcher soon becomes the year's nastiest screen villain. His seething "Not my tempo" - usually delivered just before he throws a chair at one of his underlings is probably on its way to become the "You can't handle the truth" of 2014. Expect to see Simmons feature this award season.
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The pair battle it out while the movie has you pondering the question: Is drill sergeant abuse the way to true excellence? Even in an artform that expresses American freedom? Seems so, at least to young director Damien Chazelle who based the script to this Sundance winner on his own high school music experiences.
It's a riveting, thrilling film that gets away with an ending that's perhaps just a little too keen to cleanly resolve the jagged drama. But if you ever thought Glee or Fame would be better rendered as a one-on-one psycho-thriller, here's your film.