FILM REVIEW: Whiplash

During my long-distant university days, for just a brief time I had a Latin percussion tutor by the name of Dave Hassell; a serious fella, a top notch professional drummer and by all accounts a bit of a task master according to the resident ‘skin beaters’ on my course. Certainly they were no strangers to putting in hours of practice above and beyond what might have been expected of them.

Drums were not my instrument so I couldn’t vouch for the intensity of his methods, but if he imposed even a quarter of Terence Fletcher’s ferocity in his approach, then, my belated commiserations guys!

Whiplash is a serious film about the serious business of jazz music, and wannabe jazz musicians.

Terence Fletcher (played by the excellent J.K Simmons with uncompromising menace, bordering on the psychotic) is both revered and feared in equal measures by his students at Shaffer college, America’s premiere music conservatory.

Here, the students ‘lucky’ enough to make it into Fletcher’s studio band are pushed to their very limits by his tough, uncompromising, almost boot camp style, none more so than newbie ‘squeaker’ Andrew Neeman (played with great conviction by Miles Teller) who aspires to be spoken of in the same breath as such jazz luminaries as drummer Buddy Rich.

There’s no room for sentiment or hard luck stories here in Fletcher’s world and his methods and insatiable desire to discover his Charlie Parker or Buddy Rich, undoubtedly will break and indeed has broken many a determined spirit along the way.

Neeman’s initial, ambitious yet quiet and reflective demeanour gives way to a scowling, cynical selfishness and arrogance as the film progresses. How much of this is down to Fletcher’s methods and how much of it is Neeman’s possibly natural latent character is hard to say, but the change is definite, pronounced and unsettling.

What follows is an exilharating tale of single-minded desire, drive, revenge and counter-revenge producing at times almost excruciating levels of tension as the plot twists and turns, keeping us guessing right until the very end where the whole thing crescendos to one hell of a tumultuous climax; a genuinely electrifying finale!

It’s absolutely riveting viewing, swept along by a brilliant, powerful and pounding Justin Hurwitz soundtrack.

Whiplash fully deserves every last accolade it has already received and surely will continue to receive on it’s full, UK cinema release.

Not many films produce a loud cheer from a clearly enthralled cinema audience at the end – Whiplash did – as much, I’d imagine, a collective release from the film’s at times tortuous tension as it was a joyous show of appreciation of what is clearly going to be a very strong contender for film of the year.

Absolutely stunning!

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