Andrew (Miles Teller) is a 19-year old student at a music conservatory in Manhattan. Terrence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons – absolutely brilliant) is a teacher at the conservatory with a ruthlessly brutal teaching style. After picking Andrew to play in the school band, he pushes Andrew to his limits in order to realize his full potential, at the risk of his humanity. Director Damien Chazelle has described the film as an origin story to the jazz musicians of the golden age, and it thrives on the myths of jazz heroes such as Charlie Parker. They’re urgently looking for the next Parker, in search of perfection.
J.K. Simmons nails this part! He’s a force of nature, with a terrifying presence that incites the fear Bryan Cranston achieved with the peak of his Walter White. In fact Chazelle has done a masterful job in casting the two leads in Teller and Simmons. Their respective acts are full of purpose, full of tension and ultimately terrific.
The Fletcher character is fascinating, even though he’s an unlikeable character with nothing nice to say, he’s still somewhat endearing and enigmatic. This demasculinisation through a barrage of insults is a theme explored throughout the film and it argues whether it’s a crime or an ‘ends justifying the means’ factor of life. It’s not just a music film, but also one that could adapt to the elements of sports training, war at boot camp and biopic genres with the way it presents its elements. Fletcher is representative of that inner voice that yells at us that we’re not good enough. His poisonous words are more a part of Andrew’s psyche than legitimate coaching techniques.
Each turn of the story shapes his expectations and ambitions and then escalates the character to the right point. One criticism you might make however is that the film is too cynical. It suggests that you have to be deprived of a meaningful relationship to achieve your goals. We see Andrew get pushed further and further, we see his frustration, regrets, fear and rage with himself as he is unable to keep to Fletchers harsh musical expectations.
Whiplash is a precise, tension-building film, full of beautifully staged pieces and above all else, a love towards music and the challenges I can imagine it often represents if you want to get to the very top with the psyche of unbridled ambition.
Do you know how long it took to shoot this masterpiece of a film? Just 19 days.