Director Damien Chazelle still isn’t 30 years old, and he’s written and directed the Sundance smash and Oscar contending feature Whiplash. After adapting the film from an initial short he made in 2013, Chazelle’s second feature brims with an electric all or nothing tension, where the stakes are high and failure is unthinkable. Chazelle owes more to films like Darren Aronofksy’s ‘Black Swan,’ or Kubrick’s ‘Full Metal Jacket’ then it does the musical themed film lineage, as it focuses on the intensity of it’s subject rather then the music itself.
The film is a sharp and electric tale of a young talented jazz drummer Andrew (Miles Teller), who studies at the best all male music school in the country “Shaffer Conservatory”. When he attracts the attention of Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) and gets a spot in Fletcher’s prestigious jazz band, he thinks his potential has been recognised, and he is on the verge of greatness, but Simmons abuses his musical prodigies mercilessly in an attempt to bring out the genius.
J.K Simmons simmers as the band conductor/ drill sergeant Fletcher. His phrase “not quite my tempo,” becomes a terrifying threat rather than musical requirement, as Fletcher put his drumming trio through a living hell in order to hit his high standards. Chazelle litters the film with scenes of burst blisters, calloused hands and our young drumming prodigy Andrew bathing his blood soaked hands in ice, to the point where this feels like a Rocky film rather then a film about Jazz.
This film owes a lot to the cinematographer Sharone Meir as she sweeps around the bands rehearsal room, making the rehearsal sessions look like a finely tuned marine unit, preparing for the 9:00am arrival of Fletcher. His shots give the film it’s energy.
J.K Simmons equally excels himself here, it really is a bold and memorable performance. We never know whether Fletcher’s intentions are honourable, born out of personal failure, or just downright bullying. He sustains the film with his presence. Thats not to say that Miles Teller doesn’t play a fine second fiddle, but it is Simmons that steals the show.
It’s a shame that the film shares a similar look and feel to Darren Aronofksy’s Black Swan as it was ever present in my mind throughout. I just kept thinking it lacked the narrative depth and exploration that film had and just wasn’t as satisfying.
Overall, this film is bound to get J.K Simmons a deserved Oscar nod for best supporting actor and is well worth a watch for him alone.
By Will Harper