Starring: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Paul Reiser and Melissa Benoist; Written & Directed by Damien Chazelle
J.K Simmons’ powerfully intense performance proves that the parts of a film can overcome their sum whole.
Writer/director Damien Chazelle remakes his own 2013 short as a full length feature, and it’s easy to see that while it’s not his first time behind the lens, it’s certainly tackling a large-scale project, even if it is familiar territory. Every decision he makes with the camera is predictable, from the long one shots, to the rapid cuts, to the shakey-cam, distant angles. It comes across as a comprehensive study in film-making 101. I’m not asking for him to change the game, but it would be nice if he took the training wheels off.
Where Chazelle excels, however, was in his exceptional screenplay. He builds this beautiful Yin-Yang relationship between Teller’s Andrew and Simmons’ Fletcher. Both are incredibly passionate about what they do, and are looking to achieve the same goal, but their approaches counter-act each other which leads to a climactic explosion of drum playing that leads to the exquisitely executed final scene that showcases not only Simmons & Teller’s abilities as actors, but Chazelle’s ability as a filmmaker. It makes the viewer wonder where Chazelle of the last 10 minutes was during the previous 90.
Teller is a difficult actor to pin down. He launched his career with art house flair Rabbit Hole, then ran through the young actor motions of party flick, teen romance, YA future-world. He never presented as the breakout star, but he was definitely entertaining on another level than his fellow cast-mates, and showed a lot of promise. Whiplash is where that promise comes to fruition. He puts a lot of heart into Andrew. You see the drive and determination in his eyes. He masterfully masks the pain of forsaking a personal relationship for his ambitions. He’s soulful at all the right moments.
But Simmons. J.K. Simmons is in another world, on another planet with his brutal and intense performance as Terrance Fletcher, Andrew’s instructor. Simmons plays Fletcher with bi-polar swings from loud, big and angry to soft, reserved and almost friendly. He exudes an air of superiority without coming across as annoyingly arrogant. He truly believes in what he’s doing and that it’s the right way to do it. There’s no hint of smugness, just bull-headed passion. If I had to handicap the Oscars, he’s the runaway leader for Supporting Actor.
Whiplash firmly plants itself as one of the must-see films of the year, despite the aesthetic flaws. A strong script and brilliantly realized performances carry it to one of the top films of the year.