Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Whiplash

Illustration by Cun Shi
A promising young drummer enrolls at a cut-throat music conservatory where his dreams of greatness are mentored by an instructor who will stop at nothing to realize a student's potential.

Sunday dinner and a movie night means each week one of us has to pick a movie from Netflix or iTunes to watch. Although there are nights we struggle, it also means each of us steps out of our normal fair and sees a wider variety of movies - many times they are ones we haven't heard about.

Last night my oldest son suggested Whiplash. It was released in 2014 and I hadn't heard of it. Strange. Even weirder - it had great ratings on Rotten Tomatoes (94% from critiques and 95% from audiences), but was already showing for free on Netflix.  We decided to take a chance and were floored - this is one fabulous movie.

Andrew Neyman - played by Miles Teller - is an ambitious young jazz drummer studying at an elite east coast music conservatory. His goal - to be THE BEST drummer ever. Terence Fletcher - J. K. Simmons - is an instructor who drives a few specially chosen students hand-selected by him to be there best. His tactics are brutal and difficult to watch. Fletcher discovers Neyman in a practise room and invites him to join his elite ensemble, then proceeds to publicly humiliate him. It pushes him to his absolutely limits - and beyond. 


Neyman's drive becomes an increasing personal obsession and lets go of all distractions in an attempt to reach his dreams. His family doesn't get it - neither his drive nor his lack of friends. While there are many great roles in this movie filled by wonderful actors - it really is the story of these two that the script reveals. I don't like to say more about a plot as the less you know, the better when watching a movie.

I have seen a few movies now where the same person is both the writer and director. It often proves a winning combination as the vision is clear from opening concept, through script, casting, production and editing. In this case, the credits go to Damien Chazelle. The script is based loosely on his own experiences in the  Princeton High School Studio Band. From visuals - camera angles scene lighting, even colour - to the pacing of the script and passionate interactions, this was a wow movie for me from opening to scene to final resolution.  The film was emotionally intense. Damien Chazelle, if you read this here are my kudos on a job well done. 


I was initially surprised to see J.K. Simmons cast as Fletcher. I know him best from his television role of Dr. Emil Skoda on the NBC series Law & Order, Such a dislikeable, volatile character as Fletcher was a completely new direction than I have seen him. But he nailed it! He was at times difficult to watch as he drove his students relentlessly to make them achieve new heights. Believable? Oh yeah. Great casting and script here. Serious respect to Simmons for taking this role and making it exceptional.

Whiplash was released in October 2014 and has grossed $33.1 Million so far. At the 87th Academy Awards, Whiplash won Best Film EditingBest Sound Mixing, and Best Supporting Actor for Simmons (well-deserved), and was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture. I suspect it will prove a classic that continues to gain admirers. Why it wasn't in theatres longer and hit Neflix to quickly? No idea. Five Stars in my book. In fact I may watch it a second time!

Special note about the illustration I included above. Usually I use movie posters but this illustration by Cun Shi captured the feel of the movie so much better.

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