I'm going to attempt to review all of the films nominated for Best Picture in the weeks between nominations and the Oscars (and maybe a few that just strike my fancy), just to get me back into writing for my various blogs again, so here goes!
Whiplash is the story of man vs. music, which of course, strikes home with any musician sitting in the audience.
Miles Teller plays an up and coming jazz drummer at the Schaffer Music Conservatory. J.K. Simmons plays the demanding (and that's putting it lightly) instructor/conductor of their top jazz band. It's about how far one will push themselves for music, for becoming great. It's a fairly simple concept but makes an electrifying film.
J.K. Simmons is on fire in this movie. There's one particular scene where he's talking to a colleauge's daughter in the hall before rehearsal, all sweetness and smiles a la his portrayal of fatherhood in the fantastic Juno, and once the door shuts to the rehearsal space, in the blink of an eye, he becomes intense, loud, rude, and utterly unpredictable. It's one of the most enjoyable performances I've seen from anybody this year.
Miles Teller usually is better than the movie he is in, but here we see a perfect match of actor and material. Teller takes a role that could work on a lot of people and owns it, putting everything in. It's a quietly smoldering performance of a driven musician building himself from the ground up. He matches Simmons in intensity equally throughout the film.
The remarkable thing about Whiplash is how sparse it is. There's nothing between Simmons and Teller physically speaking but a drum set. There are not a lot of other side characters, and they are usually done away with in a scene or two. It's about the music,and the literal blood, sweat and tears that go into making it well. The final sequence will leave you speechless.
It doesn't stand a chance of winning Best Picture but it is a must see for any musician, or anyone who has ever been completely devoted to something.