Whiplash by Cian Morey Aug17

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Whiplash by Cian Morey

There are no two words in the English language more harmful than “good job”. 

I did not expect much from this movie. A film billed as something along the lines of “an ambitious young jazz drummer’s quest to be the best in his elite music conservatory” did not sound like my sort of thing. I suspected that it would be boring, packed with music in which I had no interest, and played out by a cast led by two actors I had never heard of before. I thought nothing of it.

How wrong I was. Oh my God.

Whiplash is one of the most intense movies I have ever seen. It is a thrilling drama centred on the relationship of a passionately determined student and his ruthless and abusive teacher, who is prepared to push his pupils beyond the brink of their ability and even the brink of their sanity. Their brutal collisions drive the aspiring drummer to a point of such extreme obsession that his whole life begins to unravel by his own hand.

The story is a fascinating analysis of the darker side of dedication and tenacity, and the shocking extremes that people could go to in order to achieve fame. At one point, the main character, Andrew Neiman, says, “I’d rather die broke and drunk at 34 and have people at a dinner table somewhere talk about it than die rich and sober at 90 and have no one remember me.” His relentless pursuit of greatness is spurred on by his teacher, yes – but it is ultimately Andrew himself who brings his life crashing down around him. By the time I reached the end of this film, I could not identify any real protagonist.

The best aspects of this movie, however, are the two Oscar-worthy lead performances. Miles Teller was a wonderful surprise for me, giving a disturbingly believable portrayal of a deluded, fame-hungry young man who is willing to do anything to achieve his specious goals. I expect there are many great things to come for both him and his audience.

But, despite Teller’s prowess, it was J.K. Simmons who stole the show. In his portrayal of the foul-mouthed and sadistic Terrence Fletcher, Simmons has succeeded in creating one of the most despicable characters in movie history, the sort of antagonist who one would almost try to punch in the face through the television screen. In the first half of the movie his offensive against Andrew takes the form of horrendous verbal and physical abuse (throwing chairs… yes, seriously); but in the second half it moves to a higher, more sophisticated level, becoming an incredibly tense game of psychological warfare. Though I came close in one or two astoundingly well-acted scenes, I ultimately had no sympathy whatsoever for this monster – which I think is exactly how you are meant to feel, and is a testament to Simmons’ talent. His was one of the best performances of the year and he was absolutely deserving of his Academy Award.

With regards to other elements of the film: the score was unexpectedly good, the editing (for which it also won an Oscar) was masterful, and the ending is perhaps the most cheer-worthy I’ve seen in quite some time. It may, however, leave the audience in a complex conflict of morals, but in my opinion that is simply another of this movie’s many, many achievements.

Whiplash is one of my favourite movies of 2014, and should undoubtedly be seen – no, experienced – by everyone.