Tension is a large part of what makes jazz such a powerful form of music.
The ability for the music to ebb and flow, to go from sprawling dizzying soundscapes to tightly syncopated rhythms ready to combust at a moment’s notice, gives jazz a musical power unlike most genres.
This tension is what is captured so perfectly in the film “Whiplash” and makes it such a powerful and energetic film and one of the year’s best.
The film follows Andrew Neiman, a jazz drummer in his first year at the prestigious Shaffer Conservatory music school in New York City, as he strives for greatness under the harsh tutelage of conductor Terrance Fletcher.
The relationship between Neiman and Fletcher is the heart of “Whiplash,” particularly Fletcher’s cruelty and Neiman’s obsession with perfection.
It is a relationship that feels as if it could implode at any minute as Fletcher grows increasingly demanding and Neiman abandons everything in his life in pursuit of Fletcher’s approval.
The relationship would not be nearly as powerful if it were not for the fantastic acting by stars Miles Teller and J. K. Simmons, who play Neiman and Fletcher, respectively. Simmons particularly shines as the ruthless Fletcher.
The film is also driven by the appreciation for jazz music. Everything in the film revolves around the pursuit of playing this music as flawlessly as possible, and the film does a wonderful job of examining the lengths that these students will go to in order to achieve perfection.
Neiman is shown many times playing drums past the point of bleeding and, in one scene, attempts to perform when he should be in a hospital.
The story’s gripping portrayal of tension is complemented by the visuals of the film. The visuals are tight and energetic, perfectly accentuating the tension that is bubbling under the surface at all times.
The New York setting also adds a visual beauty that could not be replicated anywhere else. The contrasting bright lights of the dark city add to the energetic and moody atmosphere.
The shots of Neiman and his fellow drummers performing are particularly fantastic at showing the energy and frustration that goes into performing the complex jazz pieces they work on.
The camera moves in sync with their frenetic limbs as they try to perform to Fletcher’s impossible standards, cutting perfectly in sync with their drum hits or his yells of frustrated disappointment.
I would be remissed if I did not talk about the terrific sound in this movie. Music plays a vital role in this film and the way the sound shrinks and grows in moments of intensity give add to the overarching tension in a way that few films I have ever seen have been able to do.
The climactic last scene of the film is beyond reproach in my opinion. The tension that has been present since the very start of the film is at its peak and the viewer knows that Neiman is at the cusp of achieving the greatness he strives for.
I physically held my breath as I watched the scene unfold and the ending is one of the most memorable of any film I have ever seen.
“Whiplash” is without a doubt one of the finest films I have watched in recent memory. A perfect combination of superb acting, directing, visuals and sound, “Whiplash” will leave any viewer questioning if the ends justify the means.