Sundance '14 Review: WHIPLASH

Writer/Director: Damien Chazelle

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

Story and Direction

Whiplash is an edge of your seat drama about the pursuit of musical perfection. The film stars Miles Teller as a first-year student at a music conservatory who is determined to become the next great jazz drummer, and J.K. Simmons as his musical director willing to use the most extreme means to find and develop the next great jazz musician.


All of Simmons’ previous work has led to this. This is the role he was born to play. It's not supposed to be fun watching someone intimidate, humiliate, and manipulate people to the maddening degree which he does. Yet at the same time, you feel so bad for Teller's character that you're left wondering whether the casting call for this film read "Actor who can play drums," or "Actor who can take brutal verbal and physical abuse." From Teller's previous comedic work, I've come to think of him as a mini-Vince Vaughn, but his performance in this made me take greater notice of his dramatic abilities and his physical dedication to his craft. 

Similar To

Whiplash mostly plays out like a sports film, with Simmons able to scream and tear paint off the wall like the most fiery and sadistic of head coaches. However, unlike the sometimes cookie-cutter sports film, this movie is as blisteringly fast-paced and deliciously unpredictable as great jazz music is supposed to be. The film's ending/climax alone is simply cinematic perfection.

Chances You’ll See It in Theaters

This is the first film I saw at Sundance this year, and it set the bar impossibly high. With Teller being the rising star he is right now, and some other familiar faces to help sell the film, I would be shocked if it didn’t get a wide release.

Be sure to check out our video review of the film here.

Official Synopsis:

Andrew, a promising 19-year-old drummer at a cutthroat Manhattan music conservatory, has little interest in being just a musician. Haunted by his father’s failed writing career and plagued with the fear that mediocrity just might be genetic, Andrew dreams of greatness. Determined not to follow in his father’s footsteps, he practices daily until his hands literally bleed. The pressure of success ratchets into high gear when he is picked to join the school band led by the infamous Terence Fletcher, a brutally savage music instructor who will stop at nothing to realize a student’s potential. Under Fletcher’s ruthless direction, Andrew begins to pursue perfection at any cost—even his humanity.

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