Whiplash ★★★★½

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

Director: Damien Chazelle
Screenplay: Damien Chazelle
Cinematography: Sharone Meir
Editor: Tom Cross
Main Cast: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Melissa Benoist, Paul Reiser

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. - Andrew

First Thoughts…

Intense. Seriously, this film is unapologetically intense! There were several moments where I was unknowingly hovering above my seat, waiting anxiously to know what would happen next. As the credits rolled, hamstrings burning from my accidental leg workout, my eyes remained glued to the screen. Was J.K. Simmons going to reappear to ream Miles Teller one last time? Was there another nearly impossible jazz drum solo to be heard? Were Melissa Benoist and her new boyfriend going to meet Teller backstage? The credits ended, the lights came up, and I limped out of the theater. Whiplash provided me a physical and mental workout like very few films, if any film, has ever provided me before.

J.K. Simmons is worth the hype plus some. I had to take a look back on his career accomplishments to remember his notable works. Unfortunately, it is a much shorter list that I hoped it would be. His grasp of this character is astonishing. He goes from complete, unadulterated anger to tears in the slam of a door. He lies until everything he says suddenly seems like the truth. It sounds insane, but it is undeniably true. Go see this incredible performance for yourself. J.K. Simmons provides a career defining performance that deserves every award it receives.

Miles Teller has become one of the most annoying actors in Hollywood. 21 & Over and Project X are two of the most obnoxious films ever made. They are racist, sexist, and completely lacking a grip on reality. Had I allowed Teller to turn me away from this film I would have never known how quality his performance truly was. After this film I ask, has Miles Teller finally grown up? Is he going to stop playing alcohol abusing high school and college students? I’ll believe it when I see it. In the moment he has greatly impressed me with this performance. It is one of the grittiest performances of 2014.

Whiplash provides some of the most stunningly beautiful color pallets of the year. Simplicity wins out in this film. The dark lighting and deep tones makes for a very appealing look. While the dialogue is aggressive, the cinematography displays the exact opposite. It has the feel of the inside of an upscale jazz club, which is exactly what this film needs. Sharone Meir could, and should, become a household name. Sometimes the simplest look provides the most powerful results.

Thoughts 24 Hours After Viewing...

What would it be like to live in a world with no friends, no family? Where personal success is your only defining characteristic? Whiplash provides an extremely different definition of success than the common worldview. So many people define their success by those around them. Colleagues, mentors, peers, family members, and those in the same field define how successful most people are. However, Whiplash paints a picture of a man who defines himself off of past legends and the opinion of one man. He cuts ties to every important person in his life to pursue a dream. Whiplash is a story of success amidst indefinable loneliness. Though the end drum solo provides closure for the audience, it is the opposite of what we want. If Teller walks off, and stays off, he assures himself a different life, a life away from the constant judgment of himself. His decision to return allows him to achieve his dream, but at the cost of everything.

This leads to the second question that has stewed in my head for the past twenty-four hours. Why is it that we, as humans, allow our enemies to lead us to our greatest successes? Every person needs an enemy to make him or her better. Whether that be an asshole boss or the guy in the cubicle next to us, everyone needs that person to push him or her over the edge. J.K. Simmons is an extreme version of this enemy. Teller’s character has more internal drive than the average human, but without Simmons he never finds the success he has as the credits roll. It is completely messed up how the world works, but necessary. History has been a consistent thread of cause and effect, enemy vs. success story. Had mankind been satisfied with itself hundreds of years ago I would not be writing this review. My computer would cease to exist, and so would this film.

So, I leave you with this… The most important thing you can do in your life is to discover what is most important to you, and then dedicate your life to it. For Teller, it was becoming a jazz drummer. For Simmons, it was uncovering the next great jazz musician. What will it be for you, and who will push you to new levels?