When one thinks of a music-themed movie, what comes to mind are biopics and comedies that tend to lean into melodrama. “Whiplash” is neither of those things, instead telling a fictional story of an ambitious drummer and his teacher at a prestigious music school.
“Whiplash” is one of the most intense movies released in the last decade, to the point where you could even define it as a thriller. There are several reasons why this film is a special one, but you can whittle it down to its writing, direction, editing and acting.
To start, this is close to a perfectly written movie. There isn’t a ton of dialogue in this picture, which may surprise some, but every dialogue sequence is unbelievably well-written. This movie knows its characters and makes sure to make them the star of the show. The plot is extremely well-paced, giving the film a strong rhythm and flow.
“This movie knows its characters and makes sure to make them the star of the show. The plot is extremely well-paced, giving the film a strong rhythm and flow.”
However, what makes the story so effective is the thematic structure. The story is articulately orchestrated, using almost every scene to deliver a message on its themes. The film ends in a way that on the surface, seems to not wrap up its thematic storyline, but it’s quite the opposite. The ending is simple and extremely effective at summarizing the whole picture, delivering a clear message on the limits of ambition.
What also makes this movie special is the direction and editing. It’s crazy to think that “Whiplash” was only director Damien Chazelle’s second feature-length film. Like the story, this film is very articulate in its visuals, with many quick cuts and close-ups for maximum emotional effect. This visual pacing and editing makes the several musical performance sequences all the more thrilling.
That being said, you cannot discuss “Whiplash” without talking about the performances. Miles Teller is great in it, completely embodying the role of a young kid with all the ambition in the world. His character will definitely remind viewers of people they know or have encountered in their own lives.
While Teller is great, J.K. Simmons steals the show. Simmons is absolutely electric in “Whiplash.” He portrays conductor Terence Fletcher of the elite Shaffer Conservatory jazz band. Simmons hits it out of the park in this role, embodying all the little mannerisms of a demanding coach or mentor. There are several lines of dialogue that he delivers in this film that will ring in your mind after watching, due to the combination of his performance and the fantastic writing. He earned himself over 40 awards from various film associations for the performance, including the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Simmons’ performance as Fletcher in this is truly up there with the likes of Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh in “No Country for Old Men,” Heath Ledger as the Joker in “The Dark Knight” and Christoph Waltz as Hans Landa in “Inglourious Basterds” as the best supporting performances of the 21st century.
“Simmons hits it out of the park in this role, embodying all the little mannerisms of a demanding coach or mentor. There are several lines of dialogue that he delivers in this film that will ring in your mind after watching, due to the combination of his performance and the fantastic writing.”
There is only one minute aspect I think could have used an adjustment. One scene in particular is a bit on the unrealistic side and, though it does deliver an strong thematic message, I think a few minor adjustments to it could have made it more realistic and kept its thematic elements.
In conclusion, due to its fantastic direction, editing, writing and performances, “Whiplash” can truly be considered a fantastic film.
Where to Find “Whiplash”: Streaming on Prime Video and Hulu (with Starz add-on, 7-day free trial)