Damien Chazelle’s latest film Whiplash crescendos just like every great drum solo should. The film is driven by its heart and true-to-life depiction of world class musicians and their struggle to become the best. Chazelle’s own experiences in musical performance is what fuels the writing and packs a punch inside the film. It combines all of this with some of the best editing and performances this year.
Miles Teller plays Andrew, a young man who enrolls in the best music conservatory in the world and will stop at nothing to become the best drummer. The film is less about classes in the conservatory and more about Andrew trying to become the best musician he can be. As Andrew works his way up through the ranks of the conservatory he also tries to balance a new romantic relationship with Nicole, played by Melissa Benoist. J.K Simmons plays Fletcher, the renowned music composer for the institution’s best ensemble, which Andrew strives to become a part of. He is the force holding Andrew back, yet pushing him to become a legend.
Most of the film is based around the interplay between these two, and the chemistry between them is undeniable. Simmons is absolutely ruthless in his performance and Teller plays the tortured musician perfectly. Teller himself played most of the drumming in the film and even taught himself how to play when he was 15. To say Teller was the perfect casting for the film would be an understatement. Simmons has a dominant presence in the film, and just like his students when he enters the room or enters into frame, the viewer is locked onto his every move.
Throughout the film, Andrew slowly tries not only to be the best drummer in the institution but the best in the world. Fletcher is the crazy, yet passionate leader who cares just as much as the musician himself.
The film shines in every aspect: the editing, the cinematography and obviously the sound of the film. The editing is incredibly tight and when combined with the music, the film becomes a dance within itself. The viewer hops from shot to shot along with the music and goes along on a ride where the only thing to do is hold on. The cinematography, especially during the drumming sequences, consist of many close ups with an intense depth of field so most of the frame is out of focus. The shots are beautifully composed and each frame feels necessary to the performance and the overall film. The film’s writing is tight and constantly puts its characters into corners that seem inescapable but somehow they sneak out without it feeling cheap. All of this combines in what feels like a spectacle, going beyond just 24 frames per second and becoming something else entirely.
By the time the credits started to roll it seemed like something was missing still. The film has a strong social commentary about what it means to be successful in a modern world which is a unique theme in cinemas today. But the end left me wanting something else; after such a thrilling ride I wanted just a little calm after the storm. In a way, maybe the message becomes even stronger because of that fact, and maybe that makes the film even stronger.