Directed By: Damien Chazelle

Starring: Miles Teller and J. K. Simmons

On this weekend, I come face to face with my 27th birthday.  Though that may sound a bit overdramatic, it is nonetheless true.  With this, I've been reflecting on life, what I've done and where I've been in this first quarter of it.  Coupling this with the fact that I was just at a dear friend's wedding a few weeks ago at which I opened up a figurative time capsule and saw some familiar faces from high school, the arrival of Damien Chazelle's Whiplash couldn't be timelier.  What many of you may not know is that I actually was a percussionist in a jazz ensemble in my high school days.  I fondly recall spending hours listening to old standards and practicing away on my drum set in my parents' basement.  While my skills were nowhere near what's needed for a film like Whiplash, the film still makes me a bit nostalgic.

Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller) is an aspiring drummer and is working hard at the Shaffer Conservatory to begin building his career.  He hasn't really had too much recognition, however.  That changes when he's practicing one day, and Studio Band director Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) overhears him.  Seeing potential in the young drummer, Fletcher asks Neyman to give him some double-time swing.  Unable to reach the fast tempo, Neyman fails, and Fletcher disappears.  Sometime later, Fletcher walks into a rehearsal for the band for which Neyman plays.  Testing out all the players and viciously insulting many of them, Fletcher surprisingly invites Neyman to join his Studio Band the following day.  Excited about the notion of joining Shaffer's Studio Band, Neyman dives in head first.  However, he should have taken the verbal beating his fellow band mates endured from Fletcher that day as an ominous sign of things to come. 

The next day, Neyman arrives for rehearsal with the Studio Band.  They're currently prepping jazz standards "Caravan" and "Whiplash" for an upcoming competition.  Not a core member, Neyman finds to his disappointment that all he's doing is turning pages for the core drummer of the band.  Fletcher eventually gives Neyman a chance to show his stuff, but it comes with a catch.  The nice friendly Fletcher who asked him for double-time swing is gone, and he's been replaced by a heartless bully who will say and do anything no matter how cruel or callous to get the best out of his players.  Neyman soon realizes that his dream to be part of the studio band has become a nightmarish reality.  Elsewhere, Neyman begins going out with Nicole (Melissa Benoist), a college student who works at the movie theater Neyman and his father (Paul Reiser) frequent.

Prior to Whiplash, I can't remember the last time I've seen a dark, thrilling film that pulsates with a soulful rhythmicity quite like Damien Chazelle's second feature film.  Paying homage to jazz greats like Charlie Parker, Jo Jones, and Buddy Rich. Chazelle pulls out all the stops to create this gripping yet comedic cinematic experience that will reel moviegoers in for the duration of its all too brief runtime.  Marked by gray cinematography to set its dark tone, frequent use of spotlights to glorify instrumentalists at their best, and some terrifically rhythmic sound mixing and editing, Chazelle's Whiplash is one furiously entertaining indie.  If I had one word to describe Whiplash, it would undoubtedly be ferocious, and that's a word I use rarely to describe any movie.

Chazelle really explores the physicality of percussion.  Notwithstanding the fact that Fletcher tosses cymbals, chairs, and any other inanimate objects in the vicinity at his players, Chazelle accentuates the physical demand that's required to be a great percussionist.  Literally giving blood, sweat, and tears, Chazelle uses intense, injury-prone practice sessions that appear utterly exhausting to highlight the demands of this great art form.  If the hell Chazelle depicts on screen is what it takes to achieve a perfect 400 meter double-time swing beat, I'm so glad I put my sticks down when I went to college (for the most part).

Miles Teller continues to make interesting career choices.  While many see him as the party animal from films like Project X and 21 & Over, The Spectacular Now star continues to demonstrate that he is more than that.  For his part as Andrew Neyman in Whiplash, Teller gives us this brooding young man who is intrinsically motivated by a passion and a desire to make a name for himself in the jazz circuit and achieve greatness.  As Neyman, he gives a quietly intense performance behind the drum set that eventually boils over into a mad rage.  All in all, Teller gives a knockout performance that stands out in his short but expanding filmography.

J.K. Simmons may have just found the role of his career.  I've always seen potential in the sarcastic character actor.  I remember him running The Daily Bugle in Sam Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy to hilarious effect some 12 years ago.  Well, he's no longer a supporting player in Whiplash.  Coming into his own and dominating the screen every time he's on camera as the maniacal Terence Fletcher, Simmons brings unbridled intensity, vitriolic body language, and hellacious, caustic wit to the film.  His performance is at times darkly humorous, frequently violent, and always dangerously entertaining.  Though his character is one serious music teacher, Simmons is doing nothing but teaching future thespians how to connect with audiences through the screen.  In this role of a lifetime, he is giving an acting master class that will echo for generations to come.

While the subject of the film is about jazz, Whiplash is about so much more than that.  It's about the drive that pushes those who are the best at what they do to avoid the pitfalls of mediocrity and achieve true greatness.  Chazelle just so happens to choose music, an art form that echoes throughout generations, as the backdrop for this.  This rhythmic jazz drama is one of the year's best.  Though there are no two words in the English language more harmful, I have to say good job to Chazelle for what he achieves here.  Whiplash gets a sober rating.  Don’t be surprised if you pull out some old Buddy Rich or Charlie Parker tunes after this one.