Let’s start with the obvious; J.K. Simmons is a revelation in his Oscar winning turn as lunatic big band leader Terence Fletcher. The comparisons to Full Metal Jacket‘s Gunnery sergeant Hartman are predictable, but fitting, as Fletcher turns his classroom into a battleground, where shellshocked pupils compete for spots in his band. It is an unforgettable turn, gleefully spitting out scattergun expletives and nerve-shredding put-downs with devastating effect.
There is more to the film than this charismatic bully, and Simmons’ co-stars, so often overlooked, deserve their share of the credit. It was a star-making turn for Miles Teller as drum-idol Andrew Neiman, whose transformation from mild-mannered daddy’s boy to knuckle-bleeding obsessive drives the film’s narrative. Melissa Benoist also stands out despite limit screen time, putting in a charming turn as Andrew’s love-interest Nicole. Their breakup scene is as heart-breaking as it is awkward, one of the quiet highlights in an otherwise explosive film.
One of Whiplash‘s real triumphs is how director Damien Chazelle has managed to make a film about jazz drumming so cinematic. The music is unsurprisingly crisp, making believers out of even the strictness non-Jazz fans. There is a real pleasure to the visuals too. Bathed in a golden hue, Chazelle revels in close-ups of the instruments; the tightening of cymbals, the emptying of spit valves, the plucking of violin strings, the pleasure is really in the detail. Far more than a one-trick pony, Whiplash is a well rounded labour of love.