Practice until Perfection – Whiplash (2014)

Every adjective they use to describe this in the trailer is accurate.  So this is about an ambitious young drummer (Miles Teller), wanting to be the next great musician.  To get there, you need to get the appropriate training, and at Shaffer Conservatory, there is an instructor (J.K. Simmons), who is renowned for pushing students to realize their full potential.  I don’t even want to pussyfoot around this: if there is a movie from this year that thoroughly exceeded my already high expectations, this is the one.  I walked out of the theater floored, and I did not realize how much I was holding my breath until the end credits were rolling.

Whiplash-7559.cr2With the levels of emotional intensity that this man reaches, the intake of air ceased to remain a priority.

My interest for this first sparked when Korey Coleman of doubletoasted.com gave this the honorary rating of “your movie is so good, it made my life look like shit.”  I have to say that I share the same sentiment.  This is tightly written, emotionally charged and scary good at every single turn.  This is roughly 100 minutes, but it only feels like 60 because it is so incredibly engaging.  All the credit in the world goes to the two actors, Teller and Simmons; the performances that the director was able to get out of them are nothing short of astonishing.  They play off each other so well that they deserve accolades on top of accolades.  Before I gush about Simmons like everybody else, let me first send some praise Miles Teller’s way.  Simmons wouldn’t be as good as he is if he didn’t have somebody to reciprocate; acting is reacting, and Teller dishes it right back to him.  You can tell how much of himself he put into this, and you can feel every ounce of this character’s frustration behind all the literal blood, sweat and tears.  In addition, there is a love subplot that makes total sense, given the direction this goes, and it perfectly highlights just how obsessive you have to be if you want to reach for greatness.  Because of the commitment of his performance, you realize just how competitive this field is, and just how high the stakes are.

tellerI don’t know how much of the drumming he actually did, but I can tell great acting when I see it.

Now on to what everybody is talking about: J.K. Goddamn Simmons.  I am not exaggerating when I compare this to Full Metal Jacket; remember how every line R. Lee Ermey barked at the recruits is so offensively off kilter that you have no choice but to awkwardly laugh?  Yeah, it’s the same effect here.  He is so fierce, harsh and severe, you get chills every time he opens his mouth, and you genuinely pity anybody who is foolhardy enough to get in his way.  His performance is mesmerizing, and you can only describe it by using lofty words like commanding and dominating.  If he doesn’t win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, it would be criminal.

simmons2Yeah, he is pants-shittingly brilliant (and terrifying).

On top of all that, the music in this is foot-tappingly infectious, and I have never wanted to listen to jazz music more than I did when I was walking to the car after watching this.  And I know this is just music, but there is palpable tension through every single plot development.  Because I was so engaged by this, I did not realize the passage of time, so when it gets to the pitch-perfect moment at the sublime crescendo to end the story, right when I thought, “they should end it here, but there’s still 30 minutes left,” it cut to black.  I cannot praise this movie enough, and there should be a picture of the poster of this movie in the dictionary, right next to the word “exhilarating.”

Whiplash (2014) *****

– Critic for Hire

Want to see where this fell in my list of best films of the 2014?  See for yourself here.

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