Set in the world of competitive jazz bands, this Sundance winner depicts a volatile, twisted, jaw-droppingly abusive relationship between a young, aspiring drummer and his conductor/mentor. While not entirely accurate, labelling it a sadomasochistic Dead Poets Society (as has been done) does ring true on some level.
Writer/director Chazelle is not yet effortlessly skilled in his technical execution of the film, with occasionally frantic camera and editing work hinting at gratuitous showmanship. But what sheer, electrifying joy it is to experience artistic energy as raw, unfiltered and volcanic as displayed here. Propelled immensely by the performances of its two protagonists – the focused, ruthlessly committed Teller as the new talent and the enigmatic, authoritative, thunderously compelling J.K. Simmons as the charismatic dictator – this is a music film made with the sensibility and intensity of a war movie. The result, as slightly unpolished as some of its components may seem, is a cinematic tour de force.
Riding on the spilled blood and sweat of a crazed mind game and bringing it all home is the epically drawn-out, physically and psychologically charged final showdown that soars to such stratospheric heights it leaves your feet stepping, head spinning and heart pounding.
Whiplash | Directed by Damien Chazelle (USA 2014) with Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons. Starts February 19
Originally published in issue #135, February 2015.