Saturday, 17 January 2015

Whiplash (5 Stars)

Every now and then a film comes along that is truly miraculous. Usually the miracle is that it's totally unexpected. Even the cinema bosses didn't have faith in the film with the intriguing name "Whiplash". It wasn't given a general release in the USA, but earned rave reviews at the few cinemas where it was shown.

Empire Magazine writes, "Sum up the plot and it sounds interminable. Watch the film and it will spit you out elated, exhausted and cheering for an encore". That's the film's only problem. The plot sounds so dull that it's difficult to attract viewers in the first place. It's about a first year music student at America's top music school who's given the chance to play drums in the jazz orchestra of the school's top professor. In the film the school is called the Schaffer Conservatory, but it's obviously based on the Juilliard School, which is universally acclaimed as the world's best music school.

The professor, Terence Fletcher, is a man who ruthlessly berates the slightest mistakes of his students, more like a drill sergeant than a music teacher. He picks on the slightest weaknesses of his students (weight, sexual orientation or family background) to hurl insults at them. What seems like sadism is intended to push his students to become the best they can be, as he admits in a quiet moment, but the insults are nevertheless hurtful.

J. K. Simmons gives the performance of his career. His performance is the best I have seen by any actor in any film ever. He has been nominated as the best supporting actor for this year's Academy Awards, but regardless of how much screen time he has he's really the main actor. Everyone else, even Miles Teller as the young drummer, fades away into his shadow. "Whiplash" has been nominated in four other categories, including Best Film, and it really deserves to win. It'll be a close race. "Birdman" and "The Imitation Game" are also exceptional films, but "Whiplash" is the best of the three. None of the other nominees deserve to be mentioned in the same breath.

Before I forget... the film is named after a song performed by Don Ellis and written by Hank Levy. Click the picture below the hear the song.

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