Tom Basham

Whiplash

In This Just OUT on January 30, 2015 at 8:19 pm

whiplash-posterI saw “Whiplash” today and my neck is just fine. However, I can’t stop tapping my toe.

Andrew (Miles Teller from “The Spectacular Now“) is a drummer. He is a drummer more than he is a son, a student, a boyfriend or even a human being. His entire existence is defined by his ability to bang a drum and his aspiration for greatness.

Andrew gets into the best conservatory in New York and works to catch the ear of the great Terrence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons from “Labor Day“), who conducts the school studio band. Fletcher’s reputation for perfection is only surpassed by his reputation for being a colossal prick. His method is to pound greatness out of these kids or snap them like twigs in the process. Fletcher is tough on Andrew, but he is tough on everybody. That is his way, and everybody knows it.

The entire band looks at the floor when he walks in. They all want his approval or at least to not be the one he picks on. That’s what it seems like, that he is picking on them. What Fletcher is doing is to pushing them beyond what they think their limits are. He doesn’t coach or coax the best out of Andrew; he berates and humiliates him every way possible to prove worthy of his admiration.

Both Teller and Simmons give masterful performances, and while there are some other folks in this movie, it’s a two-man show. On the face of it, one sees student and mentor, but it’s deeper than that. It’s about the obsessive nature of both men, what drives them to be the best. Not the best they can be, better than that – better than everyone who has ever lived. The bar is so high neither knows how it can be measured.

Director/Writer Damien Chazelle (“Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench”) conducts the story like a symphony with sparse dialogue while his Spartan soldiers go head to head with their inner demons. This was a nerve-wracking movie to watch and I felt more comfortable last week seeing “American Sniper.” They did not try to make a nice little movie, just as Fletcher did not try to mold a nice little drummer boy.

I had tough teachers in high school, college, and tough coaches. People who pushed and motivated me. Fletcher’s kind used to be commonplace, and I doubt they have all gone away. The road to mediocrity is paved with people patting you on the back saying “good job.” The road to excellence may kill you, but it’s only for those who will die if they don’t take it.

This is not your fuzzy, feel good, “Paddington Bear” kind of movie. This is a character study of the gut-wrenching quest for the quintessential performance to prove you are the best. And for that reason, I must give this movie 4 ½ stars out of 5. Those who ask why Andrew and Fletcher do what they do may never understand greatness.

Tom Basham is an indie filmmaker. Here is a link to his movie review site:
 https://bashmovies.wordpress.com

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