The new movie, "Whiplash," has won the top prize at the Sundance Film Festival and will likely earn an Oscar nomination for one of its actors (J.K. Simmons). And yet I can only cautiously recommend it.
Directed by 29 year old Damien Chazelle,"Whiplash" is a powerful, well made movie about the relationship between a young college student who wants to be a great jazz drummer and the demanding, abusive professor who constantly humiliates him.
The problem for me was that "Whiplash" put me on edge in the very first scene and kept me tense all the way to the last shot.
Fletcher: So, you know I'm looking for players?
Andrew: Yes sir.
Fletcher: Then why did you stop playing.
(Andrew starts drumming again.)
Fletcher: Did I ask you to start playing again?
Fletcher: I asked why you stopped playing and your version of an answer was to turn into a wind up monkey.
Right away in "Whiplash" we see that the conductor/teacher, Fletcher, as played by J.K. Simmons is a cruel, manipulative man. But Miles Teller as Andrew is obsessed with becoming a great musician and he's willing to take the abuse in the hope that this bully can help him reach that goal.
Fletcher: Little trouble there; you're rushing. Here we go: five, six, seven and…
(Andrew resumes drumming, but suddenly Fletcher throws a chair at Andrew's head.)
Fletcher: Were you rushing or were you dragging?
Andrew: I don't know.
(Fletcher slaps Andrew in the face.)
Fletcher: If you deliberately sabotage my band, I will gut you like a pig. (A tear appears on Andrew's face.) Oh my dear God. Are you one of those single tear people? You are a worthless, pansy ass who is now weeping and slobbering all over my drum set like a 9 year old girl.
Throughout the film, Fletcher continues to browbeat Andrew. And I wondered how this brute could keep a teaching job for longer than a week or so. For me, Fletcher's cruelty and Andrew's suffering became something of an ordeal to sit through even though I recognize the terrific talents of these two strong actors.
Fletcher is the role of a lifetime for character actor J.K.. Simmons, and Miles Teller has the chops to project vulnerability as well as arrogance. Teller does more with his face than almost any young actor i can think of.
Plus, the music is great, the editing is superb, and the direction is masterful. Still, "Whiplash" will make many people cringe in their seats.
Terry Hunter, Hawaii News Now firstname.lastname@example.org