By James Hancock October 10th, 2014
Few things get me more fired up than when I see a young talented filmmaker arrive on the scene with the storytelling confidence of a seasoned pro. While he already had some directing and writing credits under his belt, Damien Chazelle has been working with relative anonymity until now. With his new film “Whiplash”, 29-year-old Damien Chazelle will no longer have the ability to fly below the radar in the movie business ever again. I pity Damien in a way moving forward in his career trying to match or exceed this highly aggressive, adversarial yet ultimately joyous film that left my fellow audience members in tears and cheering at the finale. This is a movie about drive, competition and the struggle for perfection in an art form that chews up and destroys even the most intelligent and talented virtuoso musicians in New York as they strive to become the next Charlie Parker, Louis Armstrong or in the case of Andrew (played by Miles Teller), Buddy Rich. J.K. Simmons plays his tyrannical mentor at the best music conservatory in the country and the only comparison I can make to his performance is that of Lee Ermey as the drill sergeant in “Full Metal Jacket”. With their highly combative professional relationship in the film, Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons have absolutely captured the kind of acting magic that we so seldom see in the movies making this film an absolute pleasure to watch from start to finish.
Loosely based on Damien Chazelle’s own experiences learning to play the drums (see interview below), “Whiplash” is an incredibly intimate and personal film. In the interview, Chazelle describes how he felt like the character of Saliere in “Amadeus” where he was talented enough to recognize true brilliance in others but knew in his heart that his flawed sense of tempo would prohibit him from ever reaching the heights he wanted to reach. I have no idea if he is being modest or not but with “Whiplash” we see that Chazelle’s true calling is clearly filmmaking. In spite of the movie not having much in the way of plot, the script feels incredibly tight and economical. I barely had time to exhale watching this movie and my drink went completely ignored, one of my favorite tests for a movie’s impact on me. **Spoiler Warning** At the finale, Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons have essentially been at war with one another for the majority of the film. Both of them have lost their positions at the illustrious conservatory that has defined their lives up to that point but now they have a chance at redemption with a performance at Carnegie Hall. Simmons unleashes one final act of sabotage to either inspire or destroy Miles Teller. Teller rises to the occasion and they proceed to share what I can only describe as a scene of total movie transcendence. It is one of those rare movie moments where the relationship of the characters and the music they are playing peak in the most harmonious cinematic manner imaginable. The scene is exhilarating and it is only a matter of time until I return to the theater to have the experience one more time.
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