What makes a movie work? Not a lot, actually. First of all, you don’t need to have perfect acting, direction or writing to make a film work. All you need is a certain air of magic for a film to be special. For Whiplash, this is not the case. Whiplash doesn’t only have the magic that is reminiscent of the old American powerhouse dramas of the 1970s, but it is so powerful across the board that it’s truly a modern classic. Movie goers will love it and be impressed. But this isn’t just the Christopher Nolan type of film that will make everyone (casual tickets buyers, critics and wannabe cinema lovers) swoon over it because it’s the real deal. It holds up to it’s own, and may very well be one of the best and original movies to come out this decade.
Every year, people who watch the movies always say that the crop of films to choose from always get better and better come award season. I’ve never wanted to be that kind of person, but the past two weeks have been such a delight (with Gone Girl last Thursday) that I’m beginning to think just this. Just think, a high rated film – near perfect, and it’s only October. What else will 2014 have to offer? Because it’s going to be very hard to top what Whiplash has done both to my love for cinema and my soul.
Miles Teller leads the film as the shy Andrew, a drummer studying in one of the most prestigious music schools in the country. As Andrew longs to be accepted by his peers and be noticed by his teachers, he gets the shock of his life when the school’s top professor, Mr. Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), recruits him in his class with his personal band – the top tier of students who attend the University. As Andrew struggles to keep up with the class, he learns that Mr. Fletcher isn’t only “out of his mind” but is a true monster. A terror professor in every way possible.
The cinematic world of director Damien Chazelle brings out the best in the two main characters portrayed by actors who have consistently been great in film. J.K. Simmons, who has the most traction and is probably the one to beat in the Best Supporting Actor race this year, has the true showy role that they love in that category. He evokes an evil, conniving man with passion that is sky high, but without any limits. He brings out the best and the worst in Andrew with his contrived one liners that come out so naturally from Simmons’ mouth, as if he is the top of the “witty-insulting food chain”. Glad to see that Simmons is finally getting some due after years of being around the block, and always being ignored.
But my opinion is a little bit different. Though Simmons is a knockout, the true star of the film is Miles Teller. Teller plays the student to the evil mentor, who always seems to be shoved aside for the more colourful character. Examples of this may be James McAvoy in The Last King of Scotland (2006) taking a back seat to Forrest Whitaker’s highly acclaimed role. The truth is, Teller is quite a revelation in Whiplash. His usual air of confidence is shattered in this role, and he comes up with a raw leading man performance that I never thought he’d be capable off. And that’s coming from someone who was a big supporter of his turn in last year’s The Spectacular Now (2013). The young actor will go places. Here, he stretches himself in both the emotional and psychical limits that is the most admirable part of the film. To me, he was Whiplash, and easily makes my personal lineups.
The two masterful performances were guided by Damien Chazelle, who both directed and wrote the original screenplay. Chazelle’s style is so swift and stylized that it makes the entire film completely cinematic. Yes, even conversational scenes are of top tier style but full of substance. The slow motion of blood and sweat dripping down our heroes’ face, to the angry yells to the sweet subtle moments between Teller and Melissa Benoist, Chazelle knows what he’s doing. He has produced a fine breakthrough film deserving attention and awards. Cinematographer Sharone Meir lenses the film with a true eye for the subject matter and great passion for Chazelle’s vision.
Music plays a key role in the narrative of the picture, and Chazelle never forgets about it. He allows music to be the third leading character, setting the proper tone and feel for the masterfully directed film. In all honestly, I’ll be going back for my second dose of Whiplash tomorrow because it’s one of the best films I’ve seen in the past few years. It already surpasses my Best Picture winner of last year, Blue Jasmine. If 2014 keeps it up this way, the movie going audiences are in for a major year of fantastic film. Crossing my fingers that this will do well come awards season. Bravo.