movie film review | chris tookey


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  Whiplash Review
Tookey's Rating
10 /10
Average Rating
8.44 /10
Miles Teller , J.K.Simmons , Melissa Benoist
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Directed by: Damian Chazelle
Written by: Damian Chazelle

Released: 2014
Genre: DRAMA
Origin: US
Length: 107

An aspiring, egocentric jazz drummer Andrew (Miles Teller, pictured left) finds an even more driven teacher in Terrence Fletcher (J.K.Simmons, right).
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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Whiplash was the most thrilling experience Iíve had in the cinema for years. Writer-director Damian Chazelle built it very skilfully out of an award-winning short film he had made, and part of the pleasure lies in the way he subverts the cosily familiar ďinspirational teacherĒ genre. Audience expectations are raised early on that Terrence will be a stern but good-hearted mentor to our leading character, in the tradition of Dead Poets Society, Dangerous Minds and Mr Hollandís Opus; gradually we realise that this is not where the story is heading.

There are echoes of the psychotic drill instructor in Stanley Kubrickís Full Metal Jacket within J.K. Simmonsí excellent portrayal of obsession and envy. He becomes a terrifying bogeyman, as the relationship between teacher and pupil turns sado-masochistic.

Simmons received major plaudits for this film as well as most of the awards, but I was equally impressed with Miles Teller. I praised him twice before, in the drama Rabbit Hole and the remake of Footloose, but here heís even better. It helps that he can really drum, but he also captures the drive and ecstasy of trying to unleash that talent. The film is not a musical, but has a real sense of how exhilarating great jazz can be.

Technically, the film is wonderful. Tom Cross won the Oscar for Best Editing. Craig Mann, Ben Wilkins and Thomas Curley also won for Best Sound Mixing. Iím not sure why Chazelle wasnít nominated for his directing, but a least he received an honorary mention for his screenplay.

Part of the filmís greatness lies in its realisation that instant success is often - indeed, usually - the result of grinding hours of practice, self-sacrifice and self-centredness, interspersed with moments of torture, criticism (fair and unfair) and self-doubt. Itís the antidote to all those movies that sell the idea that ďHey, letís put on a show!Ē is a realistic proposition. This storyís about jazz drumming, but it could easily be applied to the world of sport - for example, the success of Great Britainís cyclists over the past few years - and the Powell-Pressburger classic, The Red Shoes, is a not dissimilar story, set in the world of dance.

Several reviewers pointed out that the behaviour of the tutor is so over-the-top that he would have been dismissed or imprisoned long before he receives his come-uppance in the film. Thereís an element of truth to this, but I think Chazelle makes a valuable point here about how hard it is for victims to report an abusive relationship, or even recognise that they are in one. Look how long it took for Harvey Weinstein to be exposed as a bully and a sex pest. At the age of 10 and 11, I encountered an English teacher who behaved just as outrageously as Terrence does here and turned my life into a living nightmare (in addition to which I had night terrors and started sleepwalking); the consequence was that my parents moved me to another school, while he remained in his job. I remember the headmaster excusing the teacherís behaviour by telling my father ďhe had an excellent war recordĒ. Thatís the way these things sometimes are.

A fairer criticism of Whiplash is that the love story subplot is bland and uninteresting, compared with the sound, fury and intensity of the central dramatic conflict. This is true, but it is still nicely played, and offers welcome moments of release from a drama that keeps threatening to turn into melodrama.

Chazelle went on to make another film about a jazz enthusiast, La La Land, which won him greater recognition, but Whiplash is his masterpiece. Not many movies dare to tell the truth about what it takes to be a success; but this one does. Thatís why itís one of my favourite films.

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