MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Whiplash’ sucks viewers in, doesn’t let go

Andrew Neyman (played by Miles Teller) is a young, ambitions jazz drummer trying to work his way up the ranks at a prestigious music conservatory, while Terence Fletcher (played by J.K. Simmons), right, is the leader of the top jazz ensemble at the school, and is known equally for his teaching talents and his terrifying methods. "Whiplash" is in theaters now. (Courtesy photo)

Andrew Neyman (played by Miles Teller) is a young, ambitions jazz drummer trying to work his way up the ranks at a prestigious music conservatory, while Terence Fletcher (played by J.K. Simmons), right, is the leader of the top jazz ensemble at the school, and is known equally for his teaching talents and his terrifying methods. “Whiplash” is in theaters now. (Courtesy photo)

By TRAVIS ALDEN
Special to the News Advocate

For me, the best film of the year doesn’t involve wars, civil rights struggles, superheroes (washed-up or otherwise) or astrophysicists.

While I absolutely loved Richard Linklater’s groundbreaking yet intimate “Boyhood,” my favorite film of the year — and of the 2015 Best-Picture Oscar nominees — is Damien Chazelle’s “Whiplash.”

The premise is this: Andrew Neyman — a young, ambitions jazz drummer (played by Miles Teller in what I believe to be an Oscar-snubbed performance) — is trying to work his way up the ranks at the most prestigious music conservatory on the East Coast, perhaps in the country.

Andrew Neyman — a young, ambitions jazz drummer (played by Miles Teller) — is trying to work his way up the ranks at the most prestigious music conservatory on the East Coast in "Whiplash."  (Courtesy photo)

Andrew Neyman — a young, ambitions jazz drummer (played by Miles Teller) — is trying to work his way up the ranks at the most prestigious music conservatory on the East Coast in “Whiplash.” (Courtesy photo)

The first two minutes of the film show us that he’s got talent. Posters of Buddy Rich and other greats adorn his sparse studio walls. He has the desire. But does he have the inner drive to be one of the greats? And at what cost?

Terence Fletcher (an outstanding J.K. Simmons in — my opinion — the best male performance of the year) is the leader of the top jazz ensemble at the school, and is known equally for his teaching talents and his terrifying methods. I’ve read numerous reviews comparing Fletcher to Drill Sergeant Hartman in “Full Metal Jacket” and in some ways that is an apt comparison. The yelling, mind games, the tearing down of students for what at first appears to be a power trip from hell. But there may be more — much more — to Fletcher than meets the eye.

Therein lies the central story arc of “Whiplash:” the conflict between Andrew and Fletcher, the conflict between Andrew and himself, and the constant assault of internal and external expectation.

We’ve been showing the trailer for a few weeks now at the Vogue, and nobody argues that it’s a great trailer that is extremely intriguing. While it highlights the animosity between Andrew and Fletcher, you’d be doing yourself a disservice if you stayed away, afraid the movie is going to be two hours of psychological torment and nothing else. “Whiplash” is far from it.

This film is pure cinematic adrenaline.

Rarely is there a film that truly captivates me throughout the entire movie. This is one of those films. From the somewhat ominous opening dolly shot of an isolated Andrew practicing at his drum kit and the character-defining scene that follows to the final 20-minute climax that left me breathless and inspired — “Whiplash” sucks you in and never lets you go until the credits roll.

Yes the movie is immensely entertaining. It’s heartbreaking in parts, very intense in parts (as in, blood all over the drumset intense) and some scenes of Fletcher “instructing” his students even elicit some nervous laughter from audiences. But there’s something about what the film is about that strikes a chord and elevates “Whiplash” from good to great.

The themes of ambition, accomplishment, internal drive and expectations of others are as close to universal as you can get. We’ve all experienced those — professionally, personally, artistically.

Fletcher believes the two most harmful words in the English language are “good job” and therefore is never satisfied. There are many opportunities for Andrew to believe he gave it his best effort and move along. His father — played by Paul Reiser in a perfect casting choice — provides that metaphorical (and in one scene, literal) embrace of an understanding, always-encouraging supporter who is content as long as his son did his best. It’s certainly a tempting option more than once.

Leaving the theater, you’ll not only be entertained by the masterful acting performances, the fantastic music (and I’m not a jazz guy by any means) and the stylish camerawork  and editing.

You’ll be inspired by what ultimately comes to fruition for Andrew purely by the decisions he chooses to make, and just may come to understand that Fletcher — who you will certainly hate for the vast majority of the film — is much more than meets the eye.

‘Whiplash’

Rated: R for language

Cast: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Paul Reiser

Director: Damien Chazelle

Running time: 107 minutes

Showing through Feb. 12 at the Vogue Theatre

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