STORY: Jazz drummer Andrew (Teller) has tremendous potential and ability. Painfully shy, he lets his drums to the talking. What he craves is that elusive nod of approval from his brutal jazz instructor, Fletcher (Simmons). Easier said than done, as Andrew realizes that Fletcher is a sadistic nightmare of a teacher.
REVIEW: Whiplash explodes on screen like a well-timed artillery barrage. We’re introduced to the two characters in this movie that really matter in the opening scene itself. Illuminated by an overhead light, Andrew is seen practicing in an otherwise dark room at the fictional Shaffer Conservatory of Music. He picks up the tempo on the snare, gradually accelerating to a machine-gun frenzy until Fletcher walks in and Andrew abruptly halts. Their tenuous student-teacher equation begins here.
A devoted Buddy Rich fan with stellar ambitions, Andrew is relentless like no drummer Fletcher has ever taught and the bullet-headed Fletcher is distinctly evocative of Full Metal Jacket’s foul-mouthed, bullying and merciless drill instructor, Sergeant Hartman. Fletcher eschews jazz improvisation for impossibly strict cadences and tempos. And when he asks the band to meet for practice at 9 am, he will enter the room at that very second. Andrew is no slouch in the determination department – he dumps his sweet girlfriend (Benoist) to focus on playing and play he does, till his hands bleed.
Hank Levy’s Whiplash is used by Fletcher with an obsession bordering on derangement; he makes Andrew repeat a five-second, random phrase from the piece, each time expecting him to get the right tempo. It’s never enough, but Fletcher quotes a Charlie “Bird” Parker anecdote as justification for pushing his students beyond the edge.
Some might feel that the depiction of jazz here is too harsh. But then again, Fletcher’s approach is about mastering the underpinning forms and structures before a player explores improvisational methods. The taut editing (Tom Cross) is outstanding and Simmons outdoes himself. When the thumping tom-toms, trombones and tympani fall silent, what you are also left with is a career-topping performance (thus far, at least!) from Miles Teller.