Madly, madly ambitious

“Whiplash” reveals the ferocious world of jazz in the best drama of the year so far.

By Zaida Diaz, Staff Writer

To what lengths would you go to achieve greatness? Writer-director Damien Chazelle demands an answer in his intensely orchestrated drama, “Whiplash.”

The film centers the chaotic relationship between ambitious, young jazz drummer Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) and highly respected – but tyrannical and abusive – conductor Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons). Neiman attends the best music school in the country and becomes a part of the studio band under the direction of the notorious Fletcher (spectacularly rendered by Simmons).

The audience gets its first taste of Fletcher’s ruthlessness when he orders Neiman to match tempo to a superhumanly fine degree (see clip below). The script and performances ratchet up the tension, but Chazelle’s use of camera movement and editing add to the stress and raw emotions that arise within these unsettling interactions.

Because of its unpredictable twists and turns, and the extreme tension this film about jazz drumming generates, it is with no surprise that “Whiplash” received the U.S. Grand Jury Prize (Dramatic) and the Dramatic Audience Award at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. Teller (“The Spectacular Now”) is utterly convincing as a young man relentlessly pursuing greatness, while longtime character actor Simmons (“Juno,” “Spider-Man”) is justly receiving intense Oscar buzz.

Teacher and student share a compulsion to achieve perfection, locking them into a double-time swing dance of destruction. Fletcher repeatedly finds new and humiliating ways to test his student; Neiman refuses to pack up his kit and walk away.

In an effort to become a better drummer and impress his instructor, Neiman dives into deep and passionate rehearsals, often until he is bleeding from the blisters and cuts on his hands.

Neiman’s crazed dedication ultimately distances him from intimate, healthy relationships. He’s left with only music and Fletcher, obsessively focused on this one goal.

If you are willing to be jolted onto the battlefield that is the jazz orchestra and experience firsthand an unforgettable performance, this is without a doubt the movie to see.

“Whiplash” will have your heart racing from beginning to end.

“Whiplash” opens in theaters October 10

Rated R for strong language including some sexual references.

5 stars (out of 5)


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