Oscars 2015 Best Picture Nominee Review #8: WHIPLASH | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Monday, 23 February 2015

Oscars 2015 Best Picture Nominee Review #8: WHIPLASH

Writer-director Damien Chazelle turns the musical genre inside out with a riveting mix of psychological drama in the cutthroat world of jazz drumming.

Already a Sundance hit when the movie debuted last year to great acclaim, WHIPLASH is only writer-director Damien Chazelle's second feature since his first indie debut in 2009's GUY AND MADELINE ON A PARK BENCH. However, he certainly shows a lot of extraordinary talent in both writing and directing for WHIPLASH -- a unique movie that combined the competitive art of jazz drumming and the psychological intensity of a military drama and a sports drama.


WHIPLASH centres on a 19-year-old drum student Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller), who caught the eye of renowned instructor, Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), to play for his jazz band at the prestigious Shaffer Conservatory. It was an opportunity of a lifetime for Andrew, but as soon as he joins Fletcher's class, he begins to realise his brutal method of teaching is both mentally and physically challenging.

From the opening scene that begins with the sound of drumbeats, following by the tracking shot of hallway that gradually reveals Andrew Neiman practising his drumming performance to the drum solo finale on stage, writer-director Damien Chazelle knows well how to sustain a satisfying level of attention-grabbing momentum throughout its pacey 107-minute length. In fact, beyond its premise about jazz drumming, Chazelle also successfully crafted an engaging psychological drama with a FULL METAL JACKET (1987)-like intensity between the fierce instructor Terence Fletcher and his student Andrew Neiman. Just like FULL METAL JACKET where Senior Drill Instructor and Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (R. Lee Ermey) uses aggressive tactics to push his young army recruits to the limit in the boot camp training, it's just as intense watching Fletcher pushes Andrew to the breaking point during the jazz drumming sessions.

Apart from Chazelle's crisp and highly-energetic direction, Sharone Meir's cinematography is gorgeous enough with his mesmerising use of warm lighting and amber tone, particularly during the jazz drumming sessions. Tom Cross's razor-sharp editing, in the meantime, also deserves a special mention as he helps define Chazelle's overall claustrophobic nature of the movie.

While the creative talents behind the scenes are undeniably remarkable, the cast is just as praiseworthy. Miles Teller delivers a committed performance as the highly-determined drum student Andrew Neiman, while J.K. Simmons gives a career-defining performance of his lifetime playing a no-nonsense drum instructor Terence Fletcher. He certainly deserved an Oscar nod for Best Supporting Actor, with the kind of intense and memorable drill instructor-like role reminiscent of Louis Gossett Jr.'s Oscar-winning performance as Sergeant Foley in AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN (1982) and the aforementioned R. Lee Ermey's role in FULL METAL JACKET.

The "rushing" and "dragging" scene; the scene where three drummers --- Andrew, Ryan (Austin Stowell) and Carl (Nate Lang) -- are forced to stay back for hours to perfect the art of sustaining a tempo until Fletcher is satisfied with one of their performances; the thrilling set-piece where Andrew rushes back to the car rental shop to retrieve his drumsticks and hurries back to the jazz competition before he gets himself involved in a car accident; and the spectacular jazz-drumming finale that begins with the band playing "Caravan", followed by Andrew's showstopping drum solo.

If there's one thing that prevents this movie from getting a full 5-star rating, the romantic subplot between Andrew and his girlfriend Nicole (Melissa Benoist) is sadly underdeveloped. 


Despite its minor flaw, WHIPLASH is an electrifying cinematic experience worth checking out for.

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