Review: Drumming movie Whiplash reviewed by top York percussionist

16 Jan 2015 @ 9.22 pm
| News

Writer and York percussionist Isis Dunthorne has won a place at a prestigious London music conservatoire next year. What did she make of a new movie about a jazz drummer?

JK Simmons and Miles Teller in Whiplash

Whiplash (Cert 15) 1hr 45mins

Showing at Vue York

Director: Damien Chazelle. Cast: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Melissa Benoist, Paul Reiser, Austin Stowell, Jayson Blair

Whiplash Facebook page

Jazz drummer Andrew Neiman (Teller) is a new student at prestigious American music conservatoire Shaffer, aspiring to become one of the next ‘greats’.

In order to achieve this he must endure the brutal tutelage of renowned band leader Fletcher (Simmons), who will go to more than questionable lengths to push Andrew to the best of his abilities.

Now, for most people, this film will be a highly intense experience. For me, however, it was truly terrifying. I’m a drummer myself, but it’s not just that.

I’m a drummer who in less than a year’s time is moving to London to go and study at the British equivalent of the fictional school Andrew attends in this story. Needless to say, this movie has made me significantly more nervous about how that experience is going to pan out.

It is 100% the most on-edge I have ever felt while watching something in the cinema. Maybe it’s because I can totally relate to the stress Andrew is under, or to how driven he is to be the best musician that he can possibly be, but this was a character I could really root for, despite the fact he was obsessive, rude and absentminded throughout the story.

But that was what was great about it; he was far from being the perfect person but you still found yourself on his side.

Perhaps he is just the lesser of two evils, with J.K. Simmons’ Fletcher being quite possibly the most malignant character I’ve experienced in years. It’s the torturous mind-games he inflicts upon his band that really got me.

He may be an extreme personality, but he’s not unrealistic, and that makes him all the more terrifying.

I know that it’s been said a thousand times already but it can’t be overstated – the acting in this movie is incredible. Teller, for me, was the stand-out performance. It’s not just his acting that was top-notch, but his drumming, too. And yes, it’s all really him.

The nature of jazz makes it incredibly difficult to replicate the same thing twice but Teller does it amazingly. Yeah, there are a few moments where he doesn’t quite match up to what we can hear, but it’s hardly noticeable and probably due to editing, not Teller’s playing.

I could totally believe in the character and his motivations, and it was great to see him develop throughout the film.

Then, of course, there’s JK Simmons; probably the most talked about aspect of this movie. He is simply phenomenal and he got his character spot on.

The transitions he makes from his semi-acceptable rudeness to his totally taboo ‘motivational’ methods were shocking and built up sublimely. Altogether, it was some of the best acting I’ve seen in years.

isis-drumming-at-yorchestraI guess it almost goes without saying that the music in the movie is undeniably great, the inclusion of tunes Caravan and title track Whiplash being my two favourites. Some savvy references are made to Buddy Rich, Jo Jones and Charlie Parker (to name but a few) as well as a satisfyingly large amount of drum and music lingo used, too.

This helps with the realistic setting of the world which is maintained (pretty much) throughout the whole film. It does slip up at one point however but this hardly detracts from the experience, for me it was just slightly frustrating and unnecessary to the story.

Oh well, it’s literally the only thing about the film I didn’t like, so they’re still doing pretty well.

If for some bizarre reason you’re still not sure if this movie is for you (hint: this movie is for everyone) then let me say one last thing: the final 15 minutes of this film were simply the best fifteen minutes I’ve ever spent in a cinema, ever (and yes, that’s saying something).

And no, that’s not just because I’m a drumming geek (Isis is pictured drumming for Yorchestra, above)– as soon as the concluding beat rung out the audience in the cinema burst into rapturous applause and ecstatic cheering.

I wasn’t even the one that started it, but of course, I joined in.


Verdict: Worth a pre-order on blu-ray. I will be re-watching this gleefully on the day it comes out.