DRAMA; MA, 1hr 47min
STARRING: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons
Beat it: Teller (left) and Simmons
Whatever blood, sweat and/or tears Miles Teller must have shed to blitz his drum moves as Whiplash’s 19-year-old Andrew Neiman, a first-year student at a premium music conservatory, every drop was infinitely worth the pain: the kid at play is shake, rattle and roll on a truckload of steroids. Writer-director Damien Chazelle was a jazz-drumming student himself and wanted his blistering, torn-from-emotional-truth account to feel “like a war movie … where instruments replaced weapons.”
So if Andrew is the rookie stumbling through the trenches, his General Patton is conductor/instructor/tormentor Terence Fletcher (Simmons in a staggering, man-eating performance), whose ballistic tactics are projectile rippers. Not one musical nuance escapes his ruthless, manipulative notice and there’s no edge of brutality on which he won’t happily prowl and roar.
Fletcher’s bullyboy goading gives rise to the loaded question of how far is too far when encouragement devolves into psychodrama in the pursuit of the exceptional. Already committed, Andrew becomes overwhelmed by his self-punishing obsession to be “one of the greats.” Like the hunger that feeds it, his frenzied, animal playing is a lacerated primal scream.