Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Film Review: A Love Letter to Whiplash (2014)

© Sony Pictures | Source: moviepilot

USA; 107 min.; drama, music
Director: Damien Chazelle
Writing: Damien Chazelle
Cinematography: Sharone Meir
Cast: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Paul Reiser, Melissa Benoist, Austin Stowell, Nate Lang

Alternates, do you wanna clean the blood off my drum set?” -- Terence Fletcher 

It’s official. Whiplash and I are engaged to be married. We met on a cold winter evening. I was chewing on some popcorn and, bang!, there it was, ready to take me by storm. Even though many other films have tried to steal my heart in 2014, I’m fairly certain that Whiplash is the one: my counterpart in a romance meant for the ages, my sole true love.

Originally a short film because writer and director Damien Chazelle could not get funding for a feature, mini-Whiplash impressed audience and critics alike and went on to win the Short Film Jury Prize at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. Consequently, money for a feature-length movie flowed in. A blessing for humanity, if you ask me, since there’s really no way that I would actually want to miss out on this breathtaking gem of a film.

The plot is about Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller), a young, ambitious jazz drummer trying to become one of the greats, encountering Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), a sadistic instructor willing to go far to bring out the best in his students. The story sounds simple on paper but, girl, does it dazzle on screen. It is not only that Chazelle creates a brilliant reflection on what it means to achieve artistic greatness, he also portrays a gripping face-off between two intriguing characters. Furthermore, he excels in every cinematic aspect of his film, forming, what I would call, a true masterpiece.

There is the sweeping atmosphere of seclusion. With most scenes placed in dimly lit rooms without any windows and contrasted against snippets of city life impressions, Andrew‘s intransigent striving for jazz genius and his progressive detachment from social bonds become tangible. There’s Sharone Meir’s dynamic and utterly immersive cinematography which not only enables us to see things from the characters’ perspectives or gain an understanding of their inner lives, it also perfectly visualises the musical rhythm of the entire film. There is Tom Cross’ precise, fast-paced, Oscar-winning editing, which especially shines during the band performance scenes, supporting the rush of adrenaline evoked by the vivid camera work and the thrilling jazz soundtrack.

And then, at the centre of all this, there are Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons knocking out two unforgettable individual performances as well as showing off their precious chemistry brimming with hate and yet a certain amount of respect for each other. Teller delivers an intense tour de force, further proving that he is an actor to look out for in the future. He brings naturalness, physicality and drumming talent to the character, and perfectly masters Andrew’s transition from naive little drummer boy to obsessed, strained, dark, self-abandoning careerist. J.K. Simmons, who has won both a Golden Globe and an Oscar for his portrayal, is a revelation. His Fletcher is vicious and mean, precise, clean-cut, wickedly hilarious, abusive, threatening, and yet full of emotion and heartfelt passion for his job. It is a joy to watch him revel in the character, to see him embrace the curses and the shouting, without ever exaggerating the part.

In the end, Chazelle’s take on artistic genius is rather sinister. Similar to Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan (2010), Whiplash explores what it takes to become truly great. It sheds a light on the hardships, the self-doubt, the solitude, the strength, the physical and emotional pain that has to be suffered, the boundaries that have to be crossed to experience celebration and critical praise. Here, against all romantic notions, genius is nothing inherent. It is built on tough work and the willingness to play an active part in a dog-eat-dog society. So, after the fulminant finale of the film, the director leaves us with a discourse-inspiring ambiguity: Does the sensation of a flawless artistic performance really outweigh the burden that has to be overcome to make this performance possible?

Yes, Whiplash, I love you. Every time our dates come to an end and I leave the cinema to walk to my car, I feel decelerated. I miss your fast pace, your whirlwind storytelling, your visual beauty, your outstanding performances, your music, your discourse on ideas about artistic greatness. I miss your curses. This is why, for me, you are the best film of 2014 and, most certainly, one of the best of all motherfucking time.


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