I want to be the very best

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Were you rushing or were you dragging?

Asad Charania reviews Whiplash

Anyone who is the best will tell you that it did not come easy; to succeed you need to sacrifice. Whiplash echoes this sentiment throughout the film, as we follow talented drummer Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) push himself in to perfect his art. One fateful night as he practices alone, he is approached by legendary conductor Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), who promotes Andrew to his advanced class. Upon joining Fletcher, Andrew is subjected to all forms of abuse, as the terrifying conductor accepts nothing less than perfection.

J.K. Simmons, best known for his role as J. Jonah Jameson in Spider-Man, left me in awe with a performance I can only describe as unreservedly intense. In every scene his presence alone made me feel anxious, and as he spoke I was both uneasy and mesmerised. Simmons’ character, Terence Fletcher both physically and mentally torments his new student (Miles Teller) pushing him to the brink, attacking every aspect of his life, from his broken home, to his father’s failures as a writer, Fletcher holds nothing back. Fletcher uses the famous tale of Charlie Parker, almost as a justification for his torrid actions. For those who are not aware this Jazz legend:

In the 1930s, Jazz was at its pinnacle in the American music scene. An unknown Charlie Parker joins an onstage session at the Kansas City’s Reno Club. The young saxophonist was playing opposite the seasoned drummer Jo Jones. As Charlie Parker stumbled through his set, tensions grew and Jo Jones reaches his boiling point throwing his symbol at Parker’s feet. The Club turned to laughter and Charlie Parker left humiliated. A year later, after a period of self-discovery and intense practice Parker returns to Kansas City as as an accomplished musician, demolishing his nay-sayers with a fresh take on Jazz itself.

Fletcher, armed with the understanding that all great art requires sacrifice, puts it upon himself to abuse his student in hopes of elevating them to a greater level. Although his actions may see unforgivable, you may find yourself wondering if his intentions were actually justified in the name of art. This question is debated throughout the film, with the case of Charlie Parker, who died aged 34, with a heroine and alcohol addiction, but is remembered as a pioneer in music.

Miles Teller holds his own acting against Simmons, giving a fantastic performance full of emotional highs and lows, growing to understand the commitment needed to be the best. Teller’s character is one definitely at odds with himself, an almost self-made outcast; he is haunted by the failure of his father which is used as a driving force for his success. Upon arguing the merits of success and sacrifice he says “I’d rather die drunk, broke at 34 and have people at a dinner table talk about me than live to be rich and sober at 90 and nobody remembered who I was” this line pretty much encompasses Tellers mental state throughout the film, his desire to give up everything to be remembered.

The musical sets throughout the film are mesmerizing, and the choices of set pieces are integral to the story, conveying as much emotion as the acting. Whiplash is one of my favourite movies of the year, and after receiving 5 Academy Award nominations (Simmons winning Best Supporting Actor); it’s a film you should definitely watch.

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