“Whiplash” is an intense look at the competitive nature of conservatory training and the old-school teachers that fuel the fire. The tone is set from the slow snare accelerando that opens the film over a blank screen. While the language was brutal, this film tears down the glamorous image of show business and demonstrates what it really takes to be a professional musician. Any person who plays jazz or loves to listen to it will enjoy the stories, the attitude, and the music. I don’t understand how Justin Hurwitz didn’t receive an Oscar nomination for this incredible jazz-based score. The complexity of the title song that begins in 7/8 and continually changes meters is accompanied by the tamer incidental music that keeps our minds on jazz from start to finish. But the main reason to see this film is J.K. Simmons, who taps into a dark place that I have never seen from him. He has forever been known as a character actor (my favorite role being Mr. Pancake in “The Ladykillers”), but this will slingshot his late career and probably win him an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. The character, based off of the director’s real life high school jazz band conductor, is a little overdramatic at times but embodies the old-school mentality of motivating through a demand for perfection. The story has a few surprises, none of M. Night Shyamalan proportions, but its energy and intensity is enough to drive it from start to finish. One of the most important aspects of the film is that the music is genuine. Most of the cast is comprised of professional musicians and Miles Teller is actually playing these charts. The combination of Teller’s own rock drumming experience and two months of “jazz drumming bootcamp” (ironically provided by Nate Lang, his rival in the movie), we see Teller’s real drumming chops every time that he is seated at the set. But what about that incredible Caravan drum solo? Editor Tom Cross “created” this drum solo by splicing together pieces of drum solos played by Teller over the course of TWO DAYS! The solo itself gives this film a shot at an Oscar for Best Editing. Even if Teller cannot play any of these pieces straight through, I am so thankful that director Damien Chazelle chose to cast legitimate musicians and add an extra layer of realism to the film. The final product is stunning and will keep you on the edge of your seat as much as any action movie or sports drama out there. It won’t win the Oscar for Best Picture, but it actually has a shot at Best Screenplay and Best Sound Mixing, even against “Interstellar.” “Whiplash” tells a gripping story through great acting, intense dialogue, the intimidation that many of us have felt in a heated band rehearsal, and a truly awesome ending - Damien Chazelle has composed a masterpiece.
[Pictured: J.K. Simmons' intensity never faulters]