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MOVIE REVIEW: FTN reviews Whiplash

January 15th, 2015 by Conor ONeill Comments


Whiplash (15)
Directed by: Damien Chazelle
Starring: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons & Melissa Benoist
Running time: 107 min

Bang, Bang, Bang: high-hats, more high-hats, faster, faster, faster, some snare, snare, snare, thump of the bass drum, thump of the bass drum,, shimmies round the cymbal driving the viewer to tinnitus: this is, I scream, ‘This is the’ opening scene to Whiplash. If you love music, nah, even if you don’t, you’ll have the hoot of your hoof tramping to the root of the movie theatre’s floor.

And this film can only be saw, seen, watched… all seem impoverished of definition, this piece of mastery has to be enjoyed, experienced and explored within the grasp and the grip you can only get in a movie theatre. If not, then surround sound on a massive TV and in the dark is the only other way this movie can possibly be enjoyed.

Directed by Damien Chazelle, fittingly a former jazz drummer and past director of Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, Whiplash looks at the world of professional musicianship, and what a challenging and  competitive world it is.

Following the tears, torment and turmoil of a wanna-be jazz great Andrew (Teller) the opening scene is a microcosm of the entire film in a nutshell. As we find the illustrious rehearsal of the aspiring musician practicing alone before the silent entrance of the film’s real star and enigma Mr Fletcher (Simmons) whose first name we never find out and if the student under his vice-like grip knows, he never shows the nerve to use. On realising his mentor is watching, Andrew stops and is automatically berated for doing so. And this sets the recurring theme of the movie.

Fletcher’s fastidious desire for nothing less than perfection borders on sadism. With the most minute of mistakes resulting in students left in tears, or worse, kicked out of the school. Set in a dimly lit New York with few scenes shot out of the rehearsal room or corridors of Fletcher’s principality, we see little but sadism, the desire for perfection and the dedication of the world of professionalism. Though there are sweet asides as Andrew courts waitress Nicole (Benoist), though this has no Hollywood ending as, to become a giant like his heroes Buddy Rich and Charlie Parker, Andrew chooses the skins and cymbals over love. Apart from the odd scene where we find him eating popcorn with his dad (Paul Reiser) it’s all practice, practice, practice as blood and sweat pour onto the drum-kit.

The music is spectacular, almost all original compositions by Justin Hurwitz, though there are some regular jazz classics thrown in for good measure. If the movie does have one failing, it’s the handling of the Andrew ad Nicole love affair; it’s just lumping and, in my view, badly handled. One thing which can’t be argued over or probably topped by any other music movie (with perhaps Buena Vista Social Club as a close second) is the film’s crescendo of an ending. It’s a scene lasting a full ten enthralling minutes or more and the theatre sits in baffled silence throughout.

Forget the drummer jokes, anyone who knows Em on the guitar will and must see this flick. Everyone else will leave with a bop in their trot as if they’re in post-coital awe on watching this gonna-be cult classic.

5 out of 5 Nerds


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Conor O'Neill is at times a playwright and a qualified journalist. He has worked for the Belfast Telegraph, Portadown Times and South Belfast Advertiser. He also contributes to various online e-zines, specialising in theatre, gig reviews and other cultural events. If you were to ask him what he does, he will say 'I'm functioning'... that's a lie. Best suited to pressure and deadlines, O'Neill thrives on the moment, the passion and the thrill of now, he's only happy when he's watching or reviewing a play.

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