Andrew Neyman is an ambitious young jazz drummer, single-minded in his pursuit to rise to the top of his elite east coast music conservatory. Plagued by the failed writing career of his father, Andrew hungers day and night to become one of the greats. Terence Fletcher, an instructor equally known for his teaching talents as for his terrifying methods, leads the top jazz ensemble in the school. Fletcher discovers Andrew and transfers the aspiring drummer into his band, forever changing the young man’s life. Andrew’s passion to achieve perfection quickly spirals into obsession, as his ruthless teacher continues to push him to the brink of both his ability – and his sanity.
Whiplash is not your standard-issue inspirational teacher drama. Not in the slightest.
Sure, like in many films with inspirational teachers, Terence Fletcher may push his students in order to see them reach their full potential. But his methods are crass and punishing. Fletcher’s ability to charm students like Andrew to get personal information out of them, only to use the information like a sharpened weapon, makes him absolutely sadistic.
What’s more terrifying, though, is that Andrew not only accepts Fletcher’s particular style, but that it drives him. Some people believe strongly in suffering for one’s art, and that logic pushes both Andrew and Fletcher into situations that go against what most people would consider acceptable, even if the results are potentially (possibly) worth the effort.
The name of the film, pulled from one of the pieces Fletcher teaches his students, is shockingly appropriate for the film. While it’s not necessarily being marketed as a thriller, the fact that Blumhouse Productions is one of the studios behind the film is telling. This film is easily one of the most nerve-wracking films I’ve ever seen. It’s a testament to writer/director Damien Chazelle’s work here.
It’s also a credit to the two leads of the film. Miles Teller has proven himself as one of the most engaging young actors working today with his work in the past few years, and Whiplash gives him what should be his breakout role as Andrew. His work here matches the intensity of J.K. Simmons, giving career-best work as Fletcher in a career marked with a remarkable range of roles many actors would kill to have. Simmons has already garnered early Oscar buzz for his role, and it’s well deserved.
That Whiplash is hitting the Atlanta market on Halloween feels eerily appropriate. Again, it may not be a conventional thriller, but it offers more of a psychological shock than anything that could be deemed “conventional.”
A lot of Fletcher’s abusive behavior is verbal, and includes a surprisingly high amount of homophobic language. The film doesn’t glorify it, and if anything, it further cements Fletcher’s dark presence.