Review: Whiplash Drums Up a Classic

By Scott Unverzagt in Opinion

“Nieman, you’re done,” said Terrance Fletcher, the conductor of the best college jazz band in the nation, as he scolded the first-chair drummer.

Andrew Nieman was reprimanded after arriving 10 minutes late to a jazz band competition due to a series of mishaps including a flat tire, missing drumsticks and nearly getting killed by a semi-truck.

Fletcher may have seemed heartless but his goal was to push musicians beyond their limits.

The independent film Whiplash follows a student enduring the pain it takes to become “a great” like Buddy Rich, who Fletcher said was one of the best percussionists ever.

Whiplash’s clever cinematography, talented actors and unpredictable plot combine to create a movie masterpiece.

The actor who played Nieman, Miles Teller, gave a dedicated performance as the main character, displaying the perseverance it takes to become a successful musician.

Teller had experience with drumming prior to his Whiplash role, according to Mike Scott’s article on JNola.com.

J.K. Simmons won an Academy Award for his role as Fletcher. He executed the passion and drive for finding his own Charlie Parker, the jazz trumpeter who began his career with a cymbal thrown at his head because he couldn’t perform good enough.

“There are no two words in the English language more harmful than ‘good job,’” Fletcher said.

Though some see his conducting style as abuse–throwing chairs, forcing Nieman to drum until his hands bled and screaming, “If you deliberately sabotage my band, I will gut you like a pig,” into his face–Fletcher sees his technique as pushing musicians to discovering their full potential.

His personality added conflict, humor and intensity to the story. Without it, the movie would have blended in with other films.

Something else that made Whiplash unique was its storyline. The introduction gave the impression that this was another ‘student wins over the stubborn mentor’ movie. It starts with Nieman practicing alone. Fletcher walks in and tells him to practice a “double time swing,” a rhythm that is quick and complicated. After failing to keep tempo, Fletcher leaves without notice.

The intro begged the question, ‘When will Nieman gain Fletcher’s respect?’

However, the movie quickly proves this typical plot was not the case.

Nieman was cut as first-chair drummer, later cut from the band, expelled from school and Fletcher got fired. It was an unforeseen twist that added to Whiplash’s drama.

The cinematography in Whiplash captured the intimacy of some of the most important scenes.

When Nieman practiced until his fingers bled, cameras panned close to the actor as his blood dripped onto the snare drum. The intentional choice of this angle made the scene more impactful.

Director Damien Chazelle showed great intensity through his camera work.

When Fletcher purposefully chose a song for a jazz festival that Nieman didn’t know, the camera showed the musician at his drum set in front of the crowd, humiliated. The lights illuminated his drum kit and the stage, leaving only Nieman’s silhouette. He felt worthless and the cinematography emulated that.

Whiplash was a well-rounded film that hit the audience with many facets of talent. When expertise is coordinated from all angles of the movie-making industry, a classic is sure to be made.

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