If I had to say one element of cinema I feel truly connected to, it would have to be independent films. I admire how some young, hopeful young talent creates something from nearly nothing, and of course because of the lack of studio constraints, some truly incredible, original ideas are brought to the screen. One of them is Whiplash, a brilliant and audacious film.
Damien Chazelle, a young and idealistic filmmaker, had this idea for a film about a young drummer and his experiences with an insane and angry instructor. When your film is composed of a lot of drumming and screaming, it might be a little bit difficult for studios to put faith into your film. Chazelle made the film as a short, and premiered it at Sundance, where it won a major prize, and he gained the funds to make the film. Of course, to have not produced this film would have been a major loss, and I am pretty sure every producer who rejected Whiplash is kicking themselves right now – it has gone on to become one of the best independent films of the year, which in a year with Birdman and Boyhood is a massively complex feat to pull off.
J.K. Simmons may not ring a bell to too many people, but who he is certainly does – a dedicated character actor for decades now. I have been one of those people who have always believed him to be worthy of some much better roles. He finally found it in the performance of Terence Fletcher, a bandleader who can only be described as an apoplectic, insane, vile monster. Or can he? He breaks down his students to their lowest level, discouraging them to the point of major anger and severe depression, and even quite possibly suicide. However, the big question begs this – does he want his students to be great, or does he want them to know how mediocre they actually are? Simmons takes the foul character and makes him even more cruel than possible, but also gives Fletcher some incredible humanity. We don’t know if we love him, or we hate him with all our being. I am sure everyone has had a teacher like him, who we are not quite sure of if they hate us, or they just want the best from us. I think even the most unknown actor could have made the character of Fletcher as amazing as he was, but the fact that Simmons was given the role, and played it to such perfection, makes it a sure-to-be iconic performance, and a triumphant moment for one of the greatest character actors ever.
Miles Teller is a rising new star who has already started to pick out some great films, balancing out blockbusters with indie films. Here he plays the lead character of Andrew Neiman, a 19-year-old drumming prodigy who is selected to be on the most prestigious jazz band in New York. He soon learns that the music business is not easy, and despite the eventual competition and detractors, even the people who are on your side can be your biggest enemy and cause your eventual downfall. Teller does a lot with the performance, and surprisingly is able to hold his own against a titan of a performance from Simmons. Through Teller’s magnificent performance, you feel every moment that Andrew experiences – you feel his pain, you empathize with his anger and every emotion that flows through his body is felt throughout the energy of the film. It is a star-making performance, and hopefully it can boost him to some more incredible projects that will continue to challenge him as an actor.
Whiplash is a phenomenal film – dramatic, fast-paced and very tense, it is utterly unique. The film never once drags, and it succumbs very little to cliche. It is beautifully filmed, but of course the performances are what makes this film as incredible as it is. It is certainly one of the best films of the year, and one that we will never see the likes of again, purely because of its originality.