Whiplash: Film Review – An exercise in excellence

"Not quite my tempo."
"Are you rushing or are you dragging?"

These are just a few of the dialogues that will be embedded in your mind after you watch Whiplash. A movie that embodies the very thing it’s trying to portray – pushing your limits – Whiplash will leave an impression that will make a ten-ton hammer drop feel miniscule.

Whiplash follows the journey of 19-year-old Andrew (Miles Teller), who sets out to prove himself at the elite Shaffer Conservatory. He thinks he can "make it" if he earns the approval of Terrence Fletcher (J. K. Simmons), who has a unique and ruthless teaching style. To say that Fletcher’s approval is elusive would be a gross understatement. What follows is a tale of passion, ambition and a unique student-teacher dynamic.

Whiplash makes a powerful statement about pushing yourself beyond what is expected. From the high of surpassing expectations to the pitfalls of extreme ambition, every facet of an artist’s life is explored. The road to realizing your goals is rocky, and sweat, blood and tears often serve as fuel. This is an aspect that very few music-related films have explored, and even fewer have done it as well as Whiplash.

Our only complaint? The film uses more than a few cliches and tropes to make its point. The teacher who borders on abusive, the overly genial single father and the student with an alarming need for validation. These are just a few of the plot points that had the potential to misfire. Fortunately, the stellar performances make these flaws easy to overlook.

Every actor in the film, no matter how small their role, gives it their all. And it shows. J. K. Simmons strikes the perfect balance between brutal and well-meaning. Until the very end of the film (and long after you’ve walked out of the theatre), you will find it difficult to decide how you feel about his character. Should we root for him? Hate him for his methods? It’s the ambiguity that makes the film work. Miles Teller is also remarkable as the talented yet insecure Andrew. He shows us both sides of talent and ambition – the happy high of success as well as the dark pits of despair.

But what really makes the film work is the dynamic shared by Teller and Simmons. Extraordinary actors by themselves, they bring a rawness and power to the screen that is nothing short of surreal. Watching the evolution of the characters’ dynamic and relationship in the course of the film is thought-provoking.

It goes without saying that Whiplash also has an exemplary soundtrack working in its favor. Each track beautifully captures the essence of Fletcher and his student’s dynamic. The tunes are haunting, yet beautiful and tell us about Andrew’s journey without ever saying a word!

Why should you watch this film?
Whiplash is a film that will haunt you long after it’s over. It shows us both sides of ambition and talent, and it does this remarkably. It’s not easy to make unsympathetic characters like Fletcher relatable, but somehow, the film manages to do just that. It is the perfect film for awards season, since it checks all the boxes without feeling like Oscar bait!

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