The opening night film from the Sundance Film Festival is a riveting story of the high-drama between a young musical prodigy and a harsh taskmaster/music teacher that plays like a musical Full Metal Jacket in the intense drama, Whiplash.
Based on a short story by writer/director Damien Chazelle, that premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, the story focuses on a first-year music conservatory college student, Andrew (Miles Teller), who eats, lives and breathes the drums. Whether listening to the greats or practicing incessantly, Andrew dreams of being one of the greats.
One night, during one of his personal solo sessions, he notices lurking in the shadow the dominating presence of the school’s senior music teacher, Terrence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons). Hoping to impress his instructor, he soon discovers Fletcher’s brusque and curt manner instead. But thinking that his initial impression was a failure, Andrew is surprised to learn that he has been invited to join the school’s senior band as an alternate.
During one of their tense encounters, Fletcher tells a story of how the great Charlie “Bird” Parker, once had a cymbal thrown at his head by a bandleader and the incident caused him to re-focus and would help him become a jazz icon. That story is not just metaphoric but Fletcher’s attitude that caused him to remark that the two worst words in the English Language are: “good job.”
This sets the stage for a series of battles between the dictatorial Fletcher and his newest talented protegé. Throughout the rest of the story, the two engage in battles feel like prize fighters as each feels each other out with Fletcher doing most of the pushing, manipulating and testing and Andrew offering more than enough resistance to his startled and waiting opponent.
Both leads are fantastic including Teller, coming off another triumph in The Spectacular Now. His Andrew is an insecure but talented musician that does not want his father’s life (Paul Reiser) and feels overlooked by his family and friends. He finds a surrogate father figure in Fletcher, who treats understands how talented he is and is determined, using any means at his disposal, to see Andrew fulfill his vast potential. Simmons’ performance harkens back to his tremendous work on the HBO show, Oz as he is the modern musical embodiment of Lee Ermey in Full Metal Jacket.
Practicing until his hands bleed on his drums and soaking them an ice, Andrew is a drumming warrior that spurred on by Fletcher’s taunts, both physical and emotional, that gives the audience a rousing payoff by film’s conclusion. Chazzelle’ screenplay and direction are flawless and despite the marketing challenges that the film may endure during it’s release, Whiplash is a triumph in the human spirit and demonstrates that sometimes greatness that lies within needs help getting released to see the glorious light of day!