2014 / Best Picture / Best Supporting Actor

Film #516: Whiplash (2014)

So we now come to our final Best Picture nominee Whiplash which is a rather hard film to categorise. If I was going to try to describe it then I would probably say that it’s a thriller set in the world of jazz-drumming, and you don’t get one of those every day.

The hero of the piece, if you can call him that, is 19-year-old Andrew Neimman a loner of sorts who has devoted his entire life to mastering the drums. His devotion has paid off as he finds himself at Shaffer Conservatory music school where he is soon recruited to play for the institute’s prestigious studio band. The leader of this band is conductor Terrence Fletcher; a character that will stick in your head long after the film finishes. In the film’s first scene we see Andrew practising on the drum kit only for the menacing Fletcher to make a memorable first appearance in the film. The film then sees Andrew attempt to impress Fletcher as his teacher taunts him with the insulting line ‘not quite my tempo’. With the drumming consuming Andrew’s life he soon discovers that he has very little time for anything else. One of my only criticisms with the film is that he starts dating a girl only to dump her about twenty minutes later. However I will forgive director and writer Damien Chazelle as everything else about his film is near perfect. Chazelle based Andrew’s experiences on his own as he was once a jazz drummer with a teacher who pushed his band to breaking point. Originally shooting Whiplash as a short film, he eventually got the backing to turn into a feature and I’m more than glad he did. There’s a certain realism in Chazelle’s writing especially in the scenes in which Fletcher berates members of the band for their physical shortcomings. As Fletcher and Andrew attempt to take each other down the final scene is beautifully realised and is the most intense drumming sequence I believe I’ve ever seen captured on film.

Whiplash is basically guaranteed to win at least one Oscar as JK Simmons is a dead cert to scoop a Best Supporting Actor prize for his performance as Fletcher. Character actor Simmons turns Fletcher into a drill sergeant like creation as he continues to push his players to breaking point. I felt that Simmons’ performance was simply captivating as Fletcher became more maniacal as the film progressed. At the same time Simmons made sure that Fletcher wasn’t just a one note character and he brilliantly portrayed his sadness at the news that one of his former students had died. Although his character could be perceived as unlikeable, I felt that Miles Teller gave a compelling turn as the insular Andrew. Teller and Simmons bounced well off one another which gave their scenes together an extra layer of authenticity. It does help that Teller looks like a normal college student as it makes him easier to care about despite his lack of social skills. Outside of Simmons’ win I hope that Whiplash picks up another couple of awards; particularly in the editing and sound mixing categories.
Of this year’s Best Picture nominees, I felt that Whiplash’s editing was the most effective as Tom Cross quickly cut between the facial expressions of the characters, their instruments and the sheet music in front of them. Similarly, in a film all about music, the use of sound was brilliantly handled as the titular jazz track became more ominous every time we heard it. Additionally I think that Chazelle’s film should scoop the Best Adapted Screenplay award although it’s most likely to go to The Imitation Game. Whilst Whiplash’s story is quite slight, what makes it work is the fantastic cinematography, editing and sound mixing. But more than anything else this is JK Simmons’ film and his interpretation of Chazelle’s script has led to the creation of one of the most memorable characters in recent history; maniacal band leader Terrence Fletcher.


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