“Oopsie daisy; forgot my jacket.”
Is Whiplash the best film I’ve seen since the advent of Wilson Reviews? Undoubtedly. Is it the best film I’ve ever seen? Potentially.
Whiplash doesn’t hang around. It has the pacing of double-time swing and wastes no motion. Unlike many modern films there isn’t an introductory half-an-hour, the film plays with meaning and purpose from the off. The pacing is swift and the 109 minute run-time flies by. I didn’t crave more however, it finished at the perfect moment, I only craved the whole experience again.
The film’s pace is only part of the success Damien Chazelle achieves. The film moves with perfect rhythm and wholly grasps an air of closeness to Andrew (Teller). Shots are taken with a refreshing closeness to the character’s faces, bringing an intimacy and reality into every interaction. When the shot is wider, it is only done so to provide the little understated reactions of those around Andrew. At key moments in these wider shots, the camera often dove in closer, as if the camera had taken a large, winding step forward. These fluid movements were of real visual class, especially in the film’s rousing crescendo.
Chazelle also wrote a wonderful script. The story is excellent, following a clear path. This path, though predictable, is precisely the one you want it to take. In the second half, it is not impossible to see the next step, yet the realisation of this progress is wholly satisfying. This is not to say that Whiplash does not shock; on several occasions I was pleasantly stunned. The dialogue is quick, witty and at times visually stinging. Retorts fly across the screen, usually in one direction, but also hypnotisingly in two. Whiplash will make you laugh, wince and convulse at a heartbeat’s notice. It is however, the two shining performances that will make me run out of superlatives.
Maybe Miles Teller has been overlooked by the Oscars because his character is too functional. His character Andrew is not conventionally functional; he is certainly troubled but not to the extent that some of his peer’s characters are. Andrew’s mind is distorted by his obsession with greatness, and he suffers for it. Teller’s performance is a remarkably subtle transformation, from a boy too meek and mild to lift his eyes off the floor into a man ready to fight, attack and slander. In my opinion, Teller deserves the highest praise, and the upcoming BAFTA Rising Star Award.
His opposite, Terrance Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), is equally stunning. Fletcher could have been a great one dimensional character, but through the combination of an excellent screenplay, perfect direction and an actor at the top of his game, Fletcher is a vivid three dimensions. His soft praise is horrifically contrasted with the most brutal, abusive, harsh criticism. As quick as the crash of a cymbal, Fletcher moves from a fragile, weeping mess to a man fervent with his insatiable thirst for excellence. Both his resounding authority and contrasting infectious warmth keep him constantly in control. Only in a performance of his magnitude could some of the insults, which were befitting a ‘panto’ villain, be spat with such venous power.
J.K. Simmons has a presence unlike we saw in 2014; his expressions are an intimidating and chilling device. The deep cavernous lines in Simmons’ face are an abrasive sight under the sepia-toned jazz lighting, and only add to the air of power Fletcher holds. Fletcher renders the audience as submissive to his abuse as he does with any of his ensemble. It is this presence and his emotional range that has rightly earned J.K. Simmons an Oscar nomination.
After my first viewing, I couldn’t find a reason why Whiplash wasn’t perfect. After the second, I was splitting hairs. Perfection is a strong word, but Whiplash is a strong film.
(Yes, this is my first five star review.)