Reviewed by: Jim O'Neill
the importance of being merciful and kind—rather than abusive and mean-spirited
music in the Bible
striving for personal perfection, greatness and mastery
doing what it takes to be truly great at what you do
mentor protege relationship
Miles Teller … Andrew
J.K. Simmons … Fletcher
Paul Reiser … Jim
Melissa Benoist … Nicole
Austin Stowell … Ryan
Nate Lang … Carl
Chris Mulkey … Uncle Frank
Damon Gupton … Mr. Kramer
Max Kasch … Dorm Neighbor
Suanne Spoke … Aunt Emma
Charlie Ian … Dustin
Jayson Blair … Travis
Kofi Siriboe … Bassist (Nassau)
See all »
Right of Way Films
|Distributor||Sony Pictures Classics|
In “Whiplash,” Terence Fletcher, played with pounding, no-holds-barred intensity by J.K. Simmons, is a music instructor at Shaffer Conservatory, a fictional music academy for aspiring jazz musicians. Andrew Neiman (a first-rate Miles Teller), one of Fletcher’s students, wants to be a professional drummer. He sets his sights not on being a member of a band (a comment is made about failed drummers joining rock bands) or a studio musician. Andrew believes he has what it takes to be a great drummer, perhaps the next Buddy Rich.
Fletcher knows talent. He sees plenty of it in the elite New York school where he teaches. He senses that Andrew may have more than talent. He may possess that elusive and indefinable “thing” that propels the gifted beyond accomplishment and into greatness.
To tap that “thing,” Fletcher pushes Andrew. He does not goad his student the way an avuncular coach would. There are no pep talks, no pats on the back, no second chances. You mess up, and you’re done. In his more benign moments, Fletcher taunts, berates and hollers. He is threatening and profane; his choice of words would make David Mamet or Jay Z blush. And if you think he’s all bark and no bite, you would be wrong. When the cursing falls short, Fletcher cranks things up.
“Are you rushing or dragging?”, he shouts as he tries to force Andrew to keep tempo with the other musicians. Fletcher responds to each of Andrew’s answers with a hard slap across the face. A growing red blotch and a falling tear on the student’s cheek do not hold Fletcher back. He goes further. At one point, he hurls a chair at Andrew’s head. He barely misses. “Charlie Parker would never have become ‘The Bird’ if Jo Jones hadn’t thrown a cymbal at his head,” Fletcher says, as a way of justifying his over the top, and borderline criminal, actions. The story about Jones and Parker is legendary, and most likely apocryphal, but Andrew believes its message. He will dodge flying objects and take slaps to the face, if such a baptism by fire will bring him Parker-level fame.
“Whiplash” (the name of a tune that is hard for musicians, especially drummers, to master) was written and directed by 29-year-old Damien Chazelle. This is only his second film, but he directs with keen insight into personality and a shrewd sense of humor. The film is about an ingénue wanting to be a headliner (almost all movies about music and dance and sports, especially football and boxing, have that same story line) so the usual clichés get thrown in—the tentative and doting father (Paul Reiser) who gave up his own dream of being a writer and now teaches high school, the romance with the local girl (Melissa Benoit) who is understanding but also an anchor, and the do-or-die competition that promises to be the film’s climax.
In “Whiplash,” you actually get two competitions. In between them, the film loses a few beats, but Chazelle restores the rhythm and ends the movie with a bang. Drums roll, and so do heads. You watch the fine lines between respect and contempt, intimacy and deceit, and tenderness and bared-teeth violence dissolve, but, ultimately, it is the music that is the great leveling, and healing hand. All human shortcomings are forgotten in the face of a hymn well sung or a piece well played.
In Chapter 25 of his gospel, Matthew tells the parable of the talents. One man dug a hole and buried his gifts, while others went out, used those talents and even multiplied them. It is easy to hide a talent; it’s even easier to give up on it.
Reinforcements and rewards do not come our way every day. Our masters do not often say: “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Fletcher is not someone whom we might call a good master. He tells his student that the two most harmful words in the English language are “good job.” I cannot condone Fletcher’s behavior. He’s contemptible, most of the time. Nonetheless, his faith and his hope redeem him. He never stops believing that there are great things and great people out there, and he longs to find them. He will not tolerate someone who “buries a talent.” He demands that it be used and multiplied. His wretched behavior may be a threat to civilization, but the reasons he uses it may be civilization’s hope.
Violence: Heavy / Profanity: Extreme / Sex/Nudity: Minor
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.