Monday, 26 January 2015

Review: Whiplash

Year: 2014 (U.K Release 2015)
Director: Damien Chazelle
Screenplay: Damien Chazelle
Starring: Mills Teller, J.K Simmons, Paul Reiser, Melissa Benoist

Synopsis is here:

As cold and bitter as January can be, the month is one of my favorite times of the year. After the first week of sales, a stroll into town is a relatively clam experience. It's the month of my birthday, which makes drinking gin with a large group of gin feel extra special. However, the biggest reason of my love for January, of course boils down to going to the cinema. It's at this time when, the due to the Oscars, the more "prestigious" films find their way into the multiplexes. To me it just means we have an influx of films which are a tad more adult, and with the current cinematic trend feel much like childhood nostalgia running rampant for so much of the year, it brings substantial relief.

A grand amount of alleviation can also be found once we get to the final moments of Whiplash. The film from the start is so tightly wound you can tune it with a fork. Once the film finally cuts to black and delivers the end credits, there was a feeling of exhalation that flowed out of me, as if someone had finally cut a noose from around my neck. We often consider Jazz as unhurried and easy going. Whiplash decides to take the world of Jazz and turn it into a psychological battlefield. An aggressive battle of odds between student and mentor.

Fans of Jazz as a musical genre have argued with where the film is coming from, much like the ballet dancers who complained about how Black Swan didn't highlight their art form in a positive light. Whiplash is not playing in the same wheelhouse as American Sniper, looking at decidedly weighty subjects based on true events. Although loosely inspired by a teacher that writer/director's knew at his time as a Jazz Drummer in high school, the film is more indebted to something like Rocky (1976) rather than realism. The fact is Whiplash never delivers itself as an absolute truth, it only wishes to tell an entertaining story, and does so with aplomb.

Despite having a narrative leaner than supermarket mince, Whiplash is a neatly realised and textured drama. Damien Chazelle details his film with just the right flourishes to give the drama the right edge and to have us invested in its characters. From a foot touching another during a first date to the beads of sweat leaping of the symbols when they're hit. The film brings a rich range of characteristics to envelop us into its world, ranging from bleeding plasters, to battered and bruised hands hitting iced water. Even the contours and veins on Simmons' face. Such small moments make sure that the film, while simple in its plotting, speak volumes.

Miles Teller turns down his more comical tics for a subtly sensitive performance. Giving the type of arrogant straight man performance that goes unnoticed during award season until it's too late. It's a role of heavier lifting than we give it credit for. Playing an instrument convincingly (to a Layman), as well as providing a relatable and naturalistic performance throughout. He also has to be the right combative foil for the viper that awaits him in the other corner. J.K Simmons, as teacher Terrance Fletcher, is a near impenetrable ball of rage. A man sick of mediocre talent being passed off as "good enough", nearly every word that froths from his mouth is a well-oiled put down. Every glance, a look of contempt. Do don't just play in rhythm, you have to play well. You don't just play well, you play beyond. Fully embracing a role that only he was born to play, Simmons' is on fearsome form as Fletcher, a man who strikes nerves by merely grasping at air. This central "relationship" is the jewel of Whiplash as you wait to see who may crack first.

As stated, we're not going to Whiplash for the exact truth, and yet looking at Simmons' intimidating tutor only had me contemplating how many people had a teacher like this. I remember mine looking similar to Simmons and held similar ferocity. There are (or were, if we are to believe parents nowadays) teachers such as Fletcher, who can only gain the results they acquire through fear and thunderous displays of dominance. One of the scariest things Chazelle brings to the table is the idea that as much as we dislike Fletcher's methods or try to disbelieve in them, when his reasons are explained, it's tough not to see it on his side.

That said, when the one of the film's most pivotal piece of information is revealed further along the line and defenses appear to be knocked down slightly. The outcome of the issue feels almost like a shrug. It's hard not to think of the term to make an omelette you have to crack a few eggs, although the eggs we're dealing with a lot more delicate.

Yet, due to Whiplash being a force of nature the film powers through. The sheer drive of these characters is what makes the film so appealing. Despite the preposterous nature the film sometimes delves into, the exhilaration of the film's final 20 minutes brings, in which we see the stakes both mentor and student at their highest, makes the films more extravagant elements all the worthwhile. It's only in the Whiplash's final moments when we the connection between two people in complete sync, do we get the feeling that we can breathe once more. Jazz has never been so thrilling.