Whiplash

October 28, 2014 at 9:27 am | Posted in 2014 | 1 Comment
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When I think of the oft given advice, “you have to see it on the big screen,” I typically think of special effects laden blockbusters. Rarely, if ever, have I thought that of a character driven drama. Yet, I will say this of “Whiplash:” you have to see it on the big screen. Twenty-nine year old Wunderkind, Damien Chazelle (directing his first film, which he also wrote the screenplay for), manages to create a sort of frenetic energy that engulfs the theater; I just can’t see how that will translate onto 40″. The film is essentially a study of the relationship between two men: a young, talented jazz drummer enrolled at a prestigious New York conservatory and his driven, sadistic teacher. The boy is played by Miles Teller, who garnered a lot of attention as one of the leads in “The Spectacular Now” last year. He is now a main character in the YA “Divergent” movie series and will be playing Mr Fantastic in the reboot of the “Fantastic 4” series, due next year. So everyone is going to know him soon enough. But, he was still unknown, and clearly hungry, when he made this film and his dedication to the craft explodes off the screen. He apparently trained incessantly for this role and does most of the drumming you see on screen. Reportedly, the blood you see on the drum set is actually his. This is a kid ready for his breakthrough and it shows. He is raw and present and magnetic. For all of that, however, the real revelation for me was JK Simmons as the instructor. Known mostly for bit parts like J. Jonah Jameson in the “Spider-Man” movies and for roles on TV shows like “Law & Order” and “The Closer,” I would not have thought him capable of the savagery this role required. I was clearly selling him short. Simmons dominates every scene he is in with a performance that made the audience gasp more than once. It’s says something remarkable about him as an actor that he can create a character who is so unrelenting and loathsome and, yet, can still seem sympathetic (vulnerable, even) in a couple of key themes. We cannot stand this guy, yet, in those final moments on screen, what do we feel for him? That is the film’s great success: it gives us a truly brilliant, heart-pounding finale. When the screen cut to black and the credits rolled, my heart was pounding and my head was swimming. What did I think of that final scene? Was he right? What’s going to happen next between these two men? It’s a real tribute to this film that, even though I cannot know, I actually cared.

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