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February 19, 2017

Whiplash (2014)
Director: Damien Chazelle
Actors: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Melissa Benoist

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Synopsis: Jazz drummer Andrew (Miles Teller) studies at a prestigious music school in New York, and is recruited into the famous studio band under exacting conductor, Terence Fisher (J.K. Simmons).

Review: It’s easy to see how people were hoodwinked into proclaiming Damien Chazelle as the next cinematic wunderkind based on his debut film, Whiplash. As befitting its narrative, Whiplash is a highly visceral, de facto chamber piece, and although it evidences Chazelle as a very skilled technical director, it’s disappointingly literal and conservative in execution.

It’s a story soaked in the ambition, bombast and obsessive zeal of its jazz musicians (especially the drummers), so Chazelle plays into his aural diegesis with edits and a cinematography to match: music and image become almost symmetrical. Sure, the story is compelling enough on a potboiler level – it’s the oft-fabled genre staple of the callow student under the tutelage of a highly demanding-cum-tortuous mentor. It’s mostly entertaining fare, although the (melo?)drama is all set out prescriptively for us by the ten-minute mark; in fact, the drama feels more like a device than a rounded snapshot of anything truly resembling life – a conceit around which its so-called truisms about the destructive quest for artistic perfection can play out (worst of which is a ‘made for the Oscars’ monologue by J.K. Simmons’ mentor late in the piece when he justifies his zeal when reconnecting with his errant pupil in a bluesy bar).

True, there are one or two minor subversions from the genre norm: Miles Teller’s drummer protagonist never becomes an especially likeable character despite being our nominal conduit through the story, and the closing concert denouement sees a thematically correct merging of these two combustible characters after they’d seemingly been set on a more lurid and prototypical third act ‘falling out’.

The work has a wannabe New Hollywood existentialist glean to it – like James Toback’s Fingers or something by Martin Scorsese – but if anything, Chazelle’s mainstream, literate sheen means he’s more likely the heir apparent to Steven Spielberg or Robert Zemeckis. (February 2017)

One Comment leave one →
  1. May 7, 2021 9:43 pm

    I can get not giving this movie a glowing review, but you give it a 2/5? Come on, Incertainly thought it was much better than that. I think this was an amazing film, and possibly one of the best movies from the 21st century. I believe that everything in this film was masterful. Sorry Nabarro, but I strongly disagree here.

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