Whiplash tells a classic story of the pursuit of art, but is told in a unique way of a teacher student relationship and set in the world of music. While Damien Chazelle’s film may not be on everybody’s radar, it is one of the most moving, inspirational, terrifying, and proactive movies of the year.
Chazell does a great job at building up tension throughout the film, which is best showcased in its thrilling score. The film’s soundtrack feels almost like a character in of itself, and constantly represents the plight of the struggling artist. Of course, the scenes in which music is actually played are completely exhilarating as the actors push themselves to their limits. The reality of these scenes are at points brutal, but it all works due to the film’s fantastic lead performances.
Whiplash features some of the year’s best performances in Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons. Both actors have previously flourished only in comedic roles, but here are pushed to give deeper and realistic performances. Teller is perfectly cast as the young, hopeful musician who’s willing to put in the work, and certainly gives the best work of his entire career. As the film slowly builds its tension toward its exhilarating finale, Teller is pushed as an actor, and as a character given an obsessive desire to succeed that eventually threatens his relationships and future.
Matching Teller perfectly is the terrifying, hilarious, and strangely inspiring performance by J.K. Simmons. Simmons delivers such a powerful aura onscreen that at points is incredibly terrifying and completely despicable, but as the film continues his character’s motivations become clearer and clearer. This starts a beautiful clash between Simmons and Teller; Simmons has a disturbingly negative outward persona that slowly gets more relatable, while Teller plays a good intentioned young man who slowly begins to emulate his teacher. Simmons also delivers a career best here and should be considered a lock for an Academy Award nomination (if not win) for Best Supporting Actor.
The brilliantly crafted story is a universal one of the pursuit of art and how far an artist goes to achieve personal achievement. This story is brilliantly set within the world of jazz music, which gives the perfect setting for intense sequences of competition and commitment. A brilliant choice by Chazelle is to have songs performed by the ensemble played several times; getting to see these pieced performed more than once allows the developments of the characters to grow and to evolve.
Whiplash is an utterly brilliant piece of filmmaking that not only tells a universal story but also features some of the most brilliantly composed characters featured in any film this year. The intense sequences of musical performance are not only some of the most intensely directed and brilliantly shots scenes of the year, but they progress the progress of two stellar characters that will long be remembered for cinemagoers everywhere. Grade: A