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Awards season reviews: Whiplash

This film seems to be undergoing a slow and steady box office success, despite its brilliance. So here’s my next review: Whiplash.

Unlike the majority of the films nominated for an Oscar this one isn’t based on a true story, but its depth of truth is marvellous.

Whiplash tells the story of 19 year old music student Andrew Nieman (Miles Teller) and his desire to become a world famous drummer. After he is accepted into Shaffer Conservatory, one of the best music schools in the United States, he auditions to be part of the Terence Fletcher (J. K. Simmons) jazz group. After being impressed with Andrew, Fletcher offers him the spot of alternate drummer in his band but the admiration between the two quickly deteriorates from that point on. Fletcher is increasingly violent, aggressive and incredibly manipulative toward Andrew, pushing him to his limit, both physically and mentally. With the drive to be one of the best drummers in the world Andrew lets nothing, not even Fletcher, get in his way.

Whiplash was brilliantly soulful. Although the premise is fairly straight forward, a teenager following a dream, it offers so much more than that. Striving for someone else’s perfection and mistaking it for your own, being forever unable to meet the expectations of your family. Andrews single-minded, destructively driven need to be the best and obsessive practicing to achieve this, Fletcher’s sadistic ego and Andrews inability to see it as harmful and the potentially detrimental impact a teacher can have when pushing their students to be the best. One of the main things I admired was its comment on the differences between people with dreams and people without. Not everyone has a clear, determined dream and this opposition between the two is reflected in Andrew’s relationship with his girlfriend Nicole (Melissa Benoist). This list goes on and on. The more I watch it the more it gives. What’s equally impressive is the performances by both Simmons and Teller. Simmons is able to take Fletcher from complacent to volatile within the blink of an eye, but you feel it bubbling. Any point you start to admire this character, the monster rears its ugly head and you’re equally terrified and uncomfortably amused. And at the brunt of all that, but not out-shone is Teller and his fantastic performance as Andrew. He absolutely drives this film and you’re behind him every step of the way, despite his usually unlikeable traits. He portrays a character that you want to know but in real life would never be friends with. You want him to succeed, more than anything, in finding and separating himself from Fletcher’s image. Having a musician background, Teller has played the saxophone and the drums and he exudes all the intensely physical elements of a drummer. The constant repetitiveness of Andrews drumming leaves you feeling exhausted and just when you think he’s nailed a sequence he’s more angry with himself for doing a terrible job. You eventually get the feeling that you just aren’t hearing what he’s hearing.  This brings me to make a quick comment on the use of sound, music and editing. Editing music is difficult and this is done, shot by shot, without fault. The sound and music obviously play a huge part in this film and it is used in all the right places and adds amazingly to the tension.

While its best picture nomination was a given, as was its best sound mixing and best adapted screenplay nominations, I’m surprised at a few it didn’t receive. Miles Teller should have been nominated for best lead actor, without a doubt, but he has received no nods at the Oscars.  This is a true shame as Simmons has been nominated as best supporting actor and Tellers performance is equally as impressive as his.


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