Just walked out of director Damien Chazelle‘s film Whiplash, which was developed from a short film that premiered at last year’s Sundance Film Festival. Whiplash was everything I could have asked for to kick off this year’s fest. It’s a meaningful, intelligent and fast-paced coming-of-age story about a teenager with a mission to become a great drummer; and it’s also an abrupt, in your face, indie-darling. The film dives into the nuances of this world and creates an intriguing story between two characters that goes far beyond a set of drums. With stellar performances by both Sundance veteran J.K. Simmons and rising star Miles Teller, this film is the perfect example of how to take a simple story and pump it full of adrenaline.
- Directors: Damien Chazelle
- Screenwriters: Damien Chazelle
- Cast: J.K. Simmons, Miles Teller
- Cinematography by: Sharone Meir
Andrew, a promising 19-year-old drummer at a cutthroat Manhattan music conservatory, has little interest in being just a musician. Haunted by his father’s failed writing career and plagued with the fear that mediocrity just might be genetic, Andrew dreams of greatness. Determined not to follow in his father’s footsteps, he practices daily until his hands literally bleed. The pressure of success ratchets into high gear when he is picked to join the school band led by the infamous Terence Fletcher, a brutally savage music instructor who will stop at nothing to realize a student’s potential. Under Fletcher’s ruthless direction, Andrew begins to pursue perfection at any cost—even his humanity.
- JK Simmons: His bipolar portrayal as an avant garde music professor is beautiful, unpredictable and witty in the most gritty way possible. He has both an ease and intensity to his performance that truly shows why he’s a master at his craft.
- Unpredictable: This is story doesn’t have a unique premise — a kid finds himself at a college with an unconventional teacher — and yet it’s a tense experience that leaves you not knowing what will happen next and incredibly invested in the outcome. Right up until the end, both characters were so good at duking it out with one another, and the back and forth was both so subtle and dramatic that I was constantly on the edge of my seat… And at times drumming in it.
- Unlikeable/Like-ability: Technically both of the characters in this film are extraordinarily unlikeable on the surface, driven by some kind of madness that makes sense to only them. And yet through this story I was compelled, intrigued and cared about both of them as characters and the greater purpose that they served to music as a whole. It’s not an easy feat to accomplish such a thing, but the filmmakers handled it extremely well.
This is more than just a film about drumming. It’s a story about greatness, what it takes to get there and what it actually means. Hats off to the Chazelle, who took this idea and expanded it into such an expertly put together piece of work. Whiplash is, without a doubt, one of the best indie films I’ve seen in some time, and has officially set an extremely high bar for Sundance 2014.