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Sundance Review: Whiplash

Monday night I got to see one of the last screenings of the festival: The Best of Fest presentation of Whiplash. This film about an aspiring drummer competing for recognition at one of the finest musical conservatories (and his verbally abusive teacher who pushes him to the limit) has been one of most talked about films of the festival and when it won two of the biggest awards (namely the U.S. Dramatic Grand Jury Award and the Audience Award,) I was naturally aching to see it. Boy have I never heard a title so appropriate to a film. This movie will jerk you around and make you feel it long afterward. It's hard to explain all the feelings I have about this film, but it's important to make something clear right away: this film is unbelievably and emotionally intense; it is not for the faint of heart.

Many times when I find myself reviewing a movie I speak about the film as a whole and don't get into the specifics of what the content of the film actually contains. Truth be told, I never know who my audience is and what their sensibilities are, so I usually let them do their own research about that. In this case, while I can separate specifically amazing things this particular film offers and speak for its merit as a whole, I also can't ignore things that might make some feel uncomfortable. That being? Some absolutely atrocious language. That may sound silly to some, but it wasn't just the words but the venom and intensity with which they were spoken. I definitely felt their intended effect and it wasn't a good feeling. I do understand the purpose of it. Clearly what they were going for was achieved and the screenplay will no doubt be embraced and adored...but let's just say this is not an easy, breezy film to watch.

Though the harshness of the dialogue affected some feelings towards the film, there were many redeeming factors that are undeniable. After all, I never said this movie wasn't a great film. It most definitely is...and perhaps is even arguably a masterpiece. It has quite a lot going for it. The performances, direction, cinematography, editing, its compelling story, and music were all nothing short of miraculous. Both JK Simmons and Miles Teller give just as much to their roles as their characters do to their music. And it's kind of amazing to see the two go head to head with each other.

Whiplash was certainly one of the most gripping, mesmerizing, and intense films I've seen in some time. Its climactic sequence is one of the most tense I've seen in a long time, and this is a film about music, not a horror or action piece! The character studies that take place in this film are absolutely fascinating. Whiplash is essential viewing and an incredible debut from Damien Chazelle.

RATING: 9/10.


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