“There are no two words in the English language more harmful than ‘good job.'”
There is a profundity to this cutting dialogue which inspires Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash. It’s a blunt reminder that the widespread acceptance of mediocrity is impermissible. It’s also a confident and direct stab at filmmakers who assemble and shovel uninspired trite down the throats of their compliant audience.
Film can and should be much more. Does Whiplash reach its own lofty expectations? Absolutely. And then some more.
Whiplash both through its own flawless technical execution and the relentless journey of its characters, is a film that is hellbent on achieving perfection by any means necessary. It analyses the uncompromising dedication and extreme repercussions of striving for such greatness. It is unflinching in its portrayal of the psychological and physical torture that one must endure in order to reach such a state.
Taking a mere 19 days to shoot, Chazelle has crafted a film that is expertly shot and edited with razor-sharp precision and adroitness. This hardly seems the work of such a young and seemingly inexperienced filmmaker.
Andrew (Miles Teller) is a first-year jazz drum student attending America’s most esteemed musical institution, the Shaffer Conservatory of Music. The film opens with a slow-tracking extreme long shot that unveils a relentless Andrew practising to exhaustion late one evening. This is one of the last times that anything would be shot from a distance. The second Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) crashes Andrews’s private rehearsal, Chazelle ensures that our focus remains solely and tightly on his two dynamic leads for the remainder of the film. Almost every shot is captured with an extremely shallow depth of field. Precision. Exactness. Focus. Everything that should shape a filmmaker’s or musician’s craft.
Pitted against one another for the betterment of one another, both actors give performances of a lifetime. Their dynamic chemistry on screen is as palpable as it is intoxicating and volatile.
Simmon’s Fletcher could prove to be cinema’s most ruthless educator. He drills and berates his band to their absolute extremes, not unlike the Gunnery Sgt. Hartman from Full Metal Jacket. Simmons is electric as a modern day R. Lee Emery, with a commanding and unapologetic demeanour throughout. Either you accept the sheer brutality of his methods or you quit right now. Greatness demands greatness. Nothing less will do.
As his pupil, Teller continues his string of strong, impressive work following The Spectacular Now and he immerses himself holistically in his demanding role. Andrew not only accepts the cruelty of Fletcher’s orders, but he plays until he bleeds out more than just blood, sweat and tears.
The film consistently warns us about settling for ‘good’ and when you feel the stakes and tension couldn’t possibly get any higher – they do. The finale delivers one of the most triumphant and exhilarating final twenty minutes you are likely to witness this year. The energy bursts from almost every angle and transcends out of the screen into the audience. It will surely go down as one of the most inspiring and prolific pieces of musical cinema history.
Do the ends justify the means? Is there a price you could place on attaining greatness? If we were assured of more films of this pedigree and craftsmanship, then the answer would be a resounding yes.
To date, Whiplash is my favourite film of the year. An absolute triumph!