Directed By Damien Chazelle, Written by Damien Chazelle (screenplay)
Starring J.K. Simmons and Miles Teller
Never have I been a part of an audience that universally applauded a film immediately after the images faded to black. Indeed, never have I seen film at the cinema that was more deserving of such a reception. Spectacular in countless ways, before I realised it, my hands were coming together also. An involuntary action; a result of a perfect movie in every conceivable way. Every scene, every shot, every piece of music that was played. There were certainly a number of subtle themes permeating the background of this movie. The most notable being what it truly takes, the dedication and relentless determination that is required for an artist, or indeed anyone, to become truly great, to become more than what was thought to be the limit of their capability; to surpass that limit, those expectations, and to push forward no matter the consequences… In the relentless pursuit of true greatness, or even perfection itself. Despite this, and the many other parallel themes, at its core: this is a movie MADE for drummers. In saying that though, you of course do not need to be a drummer or a real musician to enjoy this movie. It is that incredible and that diverse that the drama, the tension, the comedic quotes, along with the impeccable acting, could carry this film on its shoulders alone. This is not the case however, as this is the best film of the year, by at least a 20 kilometre marathon. It isn’t only that good, it is one of the all-time greats. Considering it is a debut-feature film simply makes this achievement that more stunning.
The plot of this film is simple, so I will not delve into that too much. But despite its simplicity, the incredibly written characters and their actions, their relationships, make this simplicity not just irrelevant, but yet another flawless aspect of the film. One of these characters is notorious music teacher Fletcher, a mean bastard of a man, whose depiction by J.K. Simmons is kicked out of the stadium, landing on the roof of a skyscraper several kilometres away. J.K. Simmons gives us, dare I say it, his best performance to date as an actor. Channeling his inner Vern Schillinder for the first time in over a decade, his every action, his every word, hell even his body language and emotions were entirely unpredictable for the entire movie, creating an amazingly tense atmosphere in a very different way to most other films. One could certainly not be blamed for pondering: is this man sick? Does he have mental health issues, hell, does he have some sort of split personality?! Additionally, as if this wasn’t enough, the script he is given to work with is sharper than Daniel-Day-Lewis’ butcher knife. Every word he uttered counted, and many of his remarks stung worse than any insect (as long as you avoid the Amazon!!), and again, as if this wasn’t enough, the black comedy that intertwines with the rest of the story, for the most part delivered viciously by Mr. Simmons, is unparalleled. This movie is truly incomparable. Of course, there was a few inside jokes that only a drummer or a musician could fully understand for the most part, but these are sprinkled lightly on simply the best bowl of cereal you will ever come across. Simmons’ dialogue was so strong, intense, scary and hilarious that it was impossible to take your eyes away from the screen. Countless insults, many rather graphic in nature, are abound, and coming from Simmons with such ferocity, I laughed almost every time he spoke. The other movie-goers in the cinema certainly seemed to share this sentiment, as audible laughter was consistent throughout. Not to mention hushed whispering regarding the intensity of what was playing out on the big screen. His methods, as he says himself, are intended to “push people beyond what is expected of them”, a quote that sums up much of what this movie is saying very well. This approach leads to a thoroughly unpredictable conclusion.
Opposite J.K. is the newcomer Miles Teller, who sets each drum-kit he touches on fire, with the skill and determination of someone destined to become great. The array of emotions that he experiences as he single-mindedly focuses on the task at hand is the best big-screen portrayal of the inner strength required to reach the highest of goals. Immature as the film begins, his character’s personality progresses steadily and in a believable fashion, eventually causing the viewer to wonder what he will say next, as his character gradually transforms before out eyes. He too has a marvelous script to work with and is the catalyst for many laughs, and though nothing close to the lines Simmons had to work with, Miles still perfected every scene and one can’t help but laugh at some of the things he says. However, his stunning drum-work and accurate to a pinpoint acting steal the show; or at the very least, share the stage with Simmons’ performance.
Alongside all this chaos, as mentioned earlier, there are many themes are touched on subtly, including, but not limited to: trust and respect, and how it is earned. The relationships between family members, and the miserable feeling a musician or drummer can feel when their passion, their love, is not taken seriously at all; seen as a hobby destined to be grown out of. It explores the dynamics between band members and their conductor, showing us, realistically might I add, the tension that can arrive in an instant when that many people are trying to perfect one song together. And of course, it shows what real motivation, true focus and dedication can do to a person, both positive and negative, and how far someone will go to get to where they see themselves belonging.
I am a drummer, so I realise that I am naturally going to be a little biased. But ignoring the inside drum jokes, I took myself out of my body, away from the drummer in me, and enjoyed this movie for what it was, as much as every other audience member I imagine, judging from the reaction as soon as those credits rolled. A factor for this sudden outburst of applause most probably has something to do with the thoroughly unpredictable, riveting final scene, that rivals any movie you could name for having the perfect ending. I could go on and on, in fact I am certain I could write a thesis on the amazing scope and execution of Whiplash. But I’ll wrap it up here, as I have said enough, and I don’t think I need to tell anyone reading this that they must see this movie as soon as they possibly can.
5/5 – The first perfect score I have ever given. But then again, this is perfect in every way. There simply is no way it could have been improved. Truly and pleasingly astounding to behold. Keep your eyes on Miles Teller as well as director Damien Chazelle – they are both destined to be two of the greats in their own right. As for J.K. Simmons, well. He is most certainly one of the greats in my book of books.
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