Whiplash ★★★★★

I saw Whiplash when it first came out in theatres, and was blown away. I watched it again upon its home release, and thought it was just as amazing. It’s rare for a film to stand up as well on its second viewing, when all surprise and initial wonder has been drowned under time.

I reviewed it upon its cinematic release, but I feel like it deserves an update (plus it wasn’t available on Medium). The updated text lies below.

Last night I went to see Whiplash. I’d heard good things, and as a ‘musician’ (honestly, it’s embarrassing to use the term after seeing these maestros perform) the plot intrigued me. But I wasn’t too fussed.

I’m so glad I saw it before it left theatres.

Andrew (Miles Teller) is an incredibly talented, aspiring jazz drummer, who dreams of being one of the greats. He eventually gets selected for the best ensemble, run by Fletcher (J. K. Simmons), and is subject to the emotional and near-physical abuse this involves, as Fletcher pushes Andrew past his limits to meet both their expectations.

It’s a very, very intense film. It doesn’t give up. There’s no real happy relief at any point — not dissimilar to the experience of the central character. He’s pushed and pushed and he keeps on getting up and carrying on, desperate to impress either his ‘mentor’ or himself. And it’s not always clear which.

My friend (a professional editor) loved the editing, which as a film about jazz music must have been a joy to put together. The cinematography is quite beautiful too, with a lot of top-down shots of the drums and angles which both dramatise the musicianship whilst portraying to a general audience exactly how difficult and technical this music is to perform.

If Miles Teller’s acting isn’t impressive enough, the fact that he really is playing those drums is incredible. Even more so when you consider that he has to, at times, play slightly faster or slower than he normally would — very unnatural for a musician so talented. To do so and yet still sound like a professional-level drummer is nothing short of unbelievable. Of course the real star of the show is J.K. Simmons, who is utterly, utterly sinister and yet carries a certain aura of majesty and respect- not just with the characters but us as an audience, too.

The big conclusion of the film is certainly one of the most satisfying cinema has seen in recent years, a hair-tinglingly, fist-pumping, ‘underdog beats bully’ moment. To describe it in any more detail would spoil it, something I refuse to ever do in a review, but it truly captures the essence of ‘crescendo’.

Obviously Whiplash is no longer in the cinema, but it’s easily available on Blu Ray and DVD. It’s a must-have watch for musicians and the tone-deaf alike because it’s not just a great film; it’s an incredibly strong contender for the film of 2015.