Picture yourself doing something that requires possessing the right skills plus your undivided attention in order to get it done. Juggling, playing jenga, driving on Rainbow Road, or anything that makes you feel anxious to the point where you ultimately screw it up because you focused too hard on not screwing it up.
That’s what Whiplash is like to watch. Written and directed by Damian Shazelle, it stars 19-year-old Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller), a naturally talented jazz drummer who has aspirations to be the next Buddy Rich, as a student at Shaffer Conservatory, dubbed in the film as “the greatest music school in the United States.”
Neiman foregoes the college experience by focusing completely on perfecting his abilities as a drummer, a task that intensifies once he is taken under the wing of music conductor Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), a renowned musician and straight-up hard-ass.
The anxiety of watching the film recurs initially as Neiman shows his skills to Fletcher, and again during practices and competitions, all of which are extreme as Fletcher accepts nothing less than perfection with his students – going as far as to kick one out of his class for failing to notice an off-key instrument.
Miles Teller plays an enriched performance as Neiman, as he passionately stays true to his desires through practicing with his eyes on the prize, to be known as one of the greats.
J.K. Simmons, as the conductor, is the film’s focal point. His stone-faced personality and rare animated expressions draw so much attention to the lines in his face that really portray the person behind the role he plays. One look at Fletcher is all you need to know that he’s the one guy you need to please to get anywhere. And one look is all you need to know that’s going to be the greatest challenge.
As much as Whiplash is about Andrew Neiman’s desire to be the next great musician, it’s also about Fletcher’s desires too. What they each bring to the relationship, and to the story, is what helps to make Whiplash one of the most gripping films of the decade so far.