Having wowed audiences at Sundance damn near a year ago, Whiplash was subsequently held off as a prime awards season release. It's easy to see why the studio did so, too: if there's any justice in the world, JK Simmons will be dusting off his tux come Oscar night, while youngster Miles Teller turns in an equally impressive performance as the obsessively-driven teen drummer.
Teller is Andrew, a talented musician seeking the attention of his prestigious music school's most feared teacher, Fletcher - a man who believes intimidation and manipulation gets the best out of his students. As he would say himself, "There are no two words in the English language more harmful than 'Good Job'". Yet while his abrasive methods are effective, they're not for everyone and his students either crumble or thrive. As you might guess, Andrew is determined to do the latter, no matter how tough it gets.
Andrew seems like the kind of character Tom Cruise may have played in the '80s; flawed, insular, but confident in his abilities. He has a past that is hinted at, and is a character that bleeds - literally and figuratively - for even a slim chance of being great, and Teller plays him perfectly. A flawed character that you don't need to relate to, he is fascinating and deeply layered.
JK Simmons is one of those actors that is simply never bad. Whether he's playing Juno's dad or an outlandish character in a comic book movie, he brings something human and real to his roles. Here, he's an absolute bastard with questionable-at-best reasons for acting the way he does. But there's something within Fletcher that commands respect and approval, and Simmons hints at a light just beyond the tunnel.
It's worth pointing out also that writer/director Damien Chazelle is a mere 29 years old. His work here shows a helmer embodying not with potential, but incredible assurance for one so young. Watch him soar.
The kind of film that takes a while to fully digest and appreciate, Whiplash will stand up well to multiple viewings.
Genuinely magnificent stuff.