Now that’s my tempo…
Rarely does a film strike every intended note, rarely does a film so clearly strive for perfection, and rarely will you see a film which embodies everything you hoped it would and more. Yet if you see Whiplash you’ll be seeing a film which does all of those things; it’s the definition of a must-see movie, and a true triumph of cinema which is more than worthy of its bountiful awards recognition.
Charting the journey of a determined young drummer named Andrew (Miles Teller, 21 & Over), as he joins the ranks of a cutthroat music conservatory, becoming part of the school’s most prestigious band, and beginning his tutelage under the ruthlessly exacting conductor Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons, Oz), Whiplash is a film which grabs you by the throat, pulls your ear lobes and stretches your eyelids, and envelops you in it’s world so fully, everything else will melt away; as this realistic, and tenaciously dark, movie takes the classic coach-mentoring-a-young-pupil movie, flips it on it’s happy-go-lucky head, and creates a hugely tense spectacle out of a potentially dull/generic story, in order to craft an astounding drama which is as thrilling as any you’ve ever seen, or heard, and undeniably intense.
Tension, and intensity emanating almost entirely from the presence of one man; J.K. Simmons; a man who not only commands screen presence, but exudes it even when he’s not in shot, or even in scene; a consistently strong actor who delivered an Oscar-worthy, career-defining, performance as Fletcher (actually winning the Oscar for Best Supporting-Actor, the BAFTA, and many more), the tightly-wound dictator who’s constant struggle for perfection is never ever reached by his students, and a man who knows his craft so-well it’s easy to see how an impressionable and aspiring young musician like Andrew would be drawn to him, and his gravitas; like a moth to a flame, a sun to a black hole, or an addict to a needle.
Yet it’s not just Simmons who’s strong here, as Teller also delivers the strongest performance of his career; not only being believable as a supremely strong drummer (having actually performed nearly 100% of the drumming himself), but remaining completely convincing as someone as driven, focussed, and determined to succeed as Andrew; a relatable yet damaged character who’s single-track mind leaves us to both admire and pity the young drummer as he systematically erases everything but drumming from his life in an effort to become one of the greats. A strong, engaging, near faultless performance from a worthy leading man, which sadly didn’t get enough recognition (almost solely due to the infallible performance, and undeniable presence, of J.K. Simmons).
While there’s little to talk about in the way of supporting stars (Whiplash is about Andrew and Fletcher, and nothing else matters), Melissa Benoist (soon to be seen as TV’s Supergirl) does a fine job as Andrew’s unambitious girlfriend Nicole, and Paul Reiser (Mad About You) also delivers a decent turn as Andrew’s concerned father; forced to watch his son get slowly dragged deeper into Fletcher’s world and being unable to to prevent the clear emotional toll his tutelage is taking.
Yet the emotional toll isn’t borne by Andrew alone, as Whiplash is so intense, so engaging, and so taxing for audience members (with heart-pounding intensity, and a one gasp-inducing scene after another) you’ll feel emotionally drained after watching, but that’s simply a sign of Whiplash‘s brilliance; the way, it taxes you pushes you and, like Andrew, keeps you wanting more.
Developed by writer/director Damien Chazelle from his own entry in the Sundance Short Film competition in 2013 Whiplash really is a one-of-a-kind movie; an intense, inspiring, and well-acted film which is not only a brilliant sophomore effort from Chazelle and a riveting vehicle for stars J. K. Simmons and Miles Teller, but one of the best music movies ever produced; an astounding all-round success which blends the fear/dread of a horror movie (Simmons clearly being the relentless and inescapable villain of the piece) with the gumption of an underdog tale, the heartfelt emotion of the most effective dramas, and an upside down look at the classic coach/mentor tale.
With a fantastic soundtrack, a superb script, astounding acting, and effective direction, not to mention spot-on lighting (creating a colour palette which basically places Andrew under stage lights, and in a performing atmosphere, for almost every single shot), Whiplash is a film which grips you within the first few seconds, builds and builds and builds while slowly tightening the tension on the snare, to deliver one of the best finales in recent memory, creating a cacophony of brilliance where every single element of production combines (like Fletcher’s ideal jazz band) to create what can only be described as the best film of 2014 (if you’re in the US), and one of the best films so far this year (for UK readers).
Coming highly recommended, Whiplash is a film you’ll want to watch again and again (likely the instant it finishes).
While there are one or two minor niggles which prevent the Whiplash Blu-ray from producing a perfect picture (the occasional soft shot, and the stylistic choice to use a generally warm colour palette – which works excellently, essentially placing Andrew under stage-lights, and constantly performing, for much of the movie – bleeding onto the skintones and making them a touch warmer than they would appear naturally), there’s no denying this is still a pretty impressive representation.
Despite the odd spot of softness, detail remains stable and impressive throughout, with fine detail and exceptional textures (most impressive looking at facial lines and instrument details) proving to be exceptional, and coming with such clarity (evident in the minuscule beads of sweat visibly flying around the practice room and stages) there’s really very little to grumble at here. Sure there’s a touch of softness and slightly warm fleshtones (a stylistic choice, not evident in more naturally lit scenes, and so not really a mark against the picture itself), but with practically no errors or anomalies visible, exceptional levels of fine detail, and wonderful textures, not to mention faultless black levels, the Whiplash Blu-ray picture actually holds up rather well.
Seen as how Whiplash involves Fletcher striving to achieve the perfect sound for his band the Blu-ray had to deliver, and thankfully it never misses a beat. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track awarded to the release is stunning in just about every respect; from the consistently clear dialogue (well anchored in the centre channel), to the incredibly precise nature of each and every instrument filling the soundstage with with a abundance of unique, nuanced, and utterly lifelike sounds there’s no faulting Whiplash‘s fantastic range, or its ability to engage listeners. The level of clarity and definition awarded to each and every sound (no matter how minor) is a thing of beauty, there’s an incredible level of precision to the entire track, and even the quite moments (in cafés, lonely apartments, or cinemas) are filled with such life-life ambience it ensures this is not only a faultless, engaging, all-encompassing mix, but a consistently reference quality soundtrack which sounds simply stunning.
While the Whiplash DVD’s bonus materials consist of merely the audio commentary with writer/director Damien Chazelle and J.K. Simmons (a hugely rewarding track which has a healthy dose of comedy from Simmons, and covers everything from casting, crafting emotional scenes, choosing locations, and more), and Toronto International Film Festival featurette (a fairly generic but still worthwhile – even if only to hear more from Teller – feature where Teller, Simmons, and Chazelle discuss various aspects of the production), there are a number of Blu-ray exclusive special features included on this release.
Upgrading from the DVD also gets you a deleted scene (rightfully cut, but worth watching just to see how a single scene of Fletcher at home could alter the tone of the film), the original Whiplash short (a 17 minute long which is basically just a key scene from the finished film; worth exploring to not only see what made the final cut and where it began, but to see how excellent a rough idea can become when it’s given the chance to flourish), and a featurette entitled Timekeepers (where real-life drummers discuss their real-life experiences in music education, their careers, and more); the enjoyment of which will depend solely on your interest in that side of the music business.
Overall, a solid all-round package. As while it may seem strange to lack the traditional ‘making of’, suffer for not including interviews with the stars (hearing more of Chazelle’s story, and Teller’s musical background in particular, could’ve proved a real treat), and bafflingly abandon any thoughts of discussing the film’s music more in-depth (a closer look at composer Justin Hurwitz’s work would’ve been interesting, as would a look at the history of the jazz music used and that Charlie Parker tale), everything else is a worthy inclusion and well worth looking into; with the original Whiplash short proving a particular highlight.
The Bottom Line:
While charting the efforts of an aspiring young drummer’s attempt to perfect his craft may read like a dull idea for a movie, Whiplash is anything but dull. In fact, it’s one of the best, the most original, and most gripping movies released in years. With fantastic acting from both Miles Teller, and J.K. Simmons (delivering a career-best, powerhouse performance here), the well-scripted, well-acted, and well-shot Whiplash is engaging, intense, and utterly gripping throughout.
As it also comes to Blu-ray featuring now only a stunningly good film, but strong picture quality, brilliant audio, and a selection of exclusive extras which, while not entirely exhausting, provide some decent insights into the production of the film, and world of music as a whole, it creates a fantastic all-round package.
So, given the fact it’s a solid Blu-ray release, one of the best film’s in recent memory, and a movie you’re going to want to watch again and again, there really is no reason not to own this highly recommended release. Buy Whiplash, or forever regret it.
Now. Stop reading, and buy it. Faster… faster… that’s my tempo!”