Whiplash is one of the most rhythmically beautiful and manically energetic films of 2014, a bold vision from Damien Chazelle featuring two dynamic, visceral lead performances. Focusing on Andrew, a jazz drummer played by Miles Teller that aims to get to the top of his class in music school, he gets into a class taught by the most important teacher at the conservatory: Dr. Fletcher, played by J.K. Simmons. There, Andrew learns that Fletcher is an unconventional, aggressive mind behind musical motivation: he verbally berates and assaults students with insults and pushes them to their playing limits. Andrew’s hands get bloodied multiple times from countless hours drumming without breaks. Chazelle’s film lyrically fluctuates between moods and scenes with its music, using Andrew’s drumming as a means of expressing his confidence and the growing unease that arises in scenes. They turn in an instant when Fletcher occupies the screen, and Simmons’ performance consumes the audience and reminds me of R. Lee Ermey in Full Metal Jacket. Yet there’s a sincerity to these characters and a human element that makes the performances and characters all the more divisive, with redemption emerging in the final moments after a stellar, pitch-perfect, 15-minute extravaganza of musical poetry. Whiplash is astonishingly confident, visceral, and one of the best films of 2014.

Grade: ★★★★ (out of 5)

Written by Eric Forthun