Some actors are lucky enough to only work in a short number of movies before their perfect role shows up. Then, there are some that seem to work for decades before that part comes along that showcases them in a way that truly shows their greatness.
“Whiplash” is a movie that features both of those instances. The odds will also be quite good that Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons should get their speeches ready as they are both potential Oscar winners for their mind-blowing performances in this truly terrifying movie about jazz musicians.
“Whiplash” is shockingly brutal, tense, and scarier than any horror movie schlock that gets dumped into theaters in hopes of turning a profit. There is blood. There is sweat. But the scariest thing about “Whiplash” is that it all happens at a school of music where everything is so cutthroat that the actions of those involved barely fall short of felonies.
Miles Teller is Andrew Neiman, a freshman at the fictional Schaffer School of Music in Manhattan. His sparse apartment is adorned with pictures of Charlie Parker and his idol, jazz drummer Buddy Rich, whose drumming prowess was only outshone by his obsessive lunacy. Andrew, who plays until his clothes are soaked through with perspiration, is definitely on a fast track to Buddy Rich insanity.
Through sheer happenstance, Andrew gets an impromptu tryout for the school’s top jazz band when the infamous conductor Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) walks into a practice room late at night. Dressed in black pants and a skin tight black T-shirt under a black jacket, Fletcher looms over Andrew, giving vague direction, essentially deciding if Andrew even deserves to be in the same room as him.
From that point on, “Whiplash” becomes an intense battle of wills between an arrogant student obsessed with perfection and a psychopathic professor who stops at nothing to get the best from his musicians.
Fletcher buddies up to Andrew, gathering personal information about his family and his schoolteacher father (Paul Reiser), seemingly caring about his new drummer. He then uses what he’s gleaned from the naive kid then proceeds rips him to shreds after failing to stay on his tempo.
The insults that easily flow from Fletcher’s mouth are the stuff of soccer mom nightmares. Every single homophobic slur is used with glee as Fletcher bashes everyone, regardless of their sexuality. He mocks weight, clothes, anything and everything in an effort to “bring the best” out of his band. Fletcher is truly a monster behind a sheet music easel, with his bicep exploding from his tight shirt every time he raises a fist to stop the band from further insulting his quest for perfection.
Oddly enough, by the end of “Whiplash”, one may wonder if Fletcher’s relentlessly cruel motivation actually helps Andrew achieve greatness. Andrew puts his pursuit of legendary status above all things, including a potential relationship with a girl he meets at a movie concession counter (Melissa Benoist), and his lack of humanity for even himself allows him to tolerate Fletcher’s mind-games and even use it to his advantage.
With his very first feature film, director and screenwriter Damien Chazelle has created a seemingly perfect movie. The script has taken a boring and non-thrilling setting and turned it into a psychological thriller of the highest order. The tension grows and grows, complete with a fairly shocking plot twist that should illicit gasps from every audience that sees it.
The editing, sound, and music are pitch perfect, perhaps even making toes tap from the biggest haters of jazz. “Whiplash” may turn many people into jazz fans, even while seeing the dark, disturbing behind the scenes backstabbing and mental sparring.
Miles Teller is in virtually every single scene of “Whiplash” and not only does he actually do all the drumming, which is so physically demanding that you have to see it to believe it, he manages to be charming even when shutting out the outside world. Teller deserves any accolades he is surely to receive for this career making performance.
Moviegoers may be used to seeing J.K. Simmons as the sweet father figure or as a slightly goofy, quirky character. Simmons erases any preconceived notions about his acting range and scorches the screen as the most frightening character you’ll see in a movie this year. Even without his chiseled physique, he’s terrifying.
The biggest compliment one can give to Simmons is that even when he is not on screen, his presence is always felt. He’s the creature lurking around the corner, in your thoughts, just creating anxiety even when not seen.
“Whiplash” will most certainly be one of the films on the Oscar list for Best Picture. There’s a good chance that Chazelle will be for directing as well, but most certainly for Best Original Screenplay.
But if you are a gambler, put your money on Teller and Simmons. This is an acting clinic from Teller, who may only get better, and Simmons, who has finally gotten the role that his fantastic career so richly deserved.