Nov 16, 2014

One of the best movies of the year.



Grade: A-

Director: Damien Chazelle (Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench)

Screenplay: Chazelle

Cast: Miles Teller (Divergent), J.K. Simmons (Men, Women & Children)

Rating: R

Runtime: 107 min.

by John DeSando

“There are no two words in the English language more harmful than good job.” Fletcher (J.K. Simmons)

Fletcher and his uncompromising, ninja teaching methods do not include praise for pupils in Whiplash, or in any Marine squad facing a stolid drill instructor.  This intense drama about a young drummer, Andrew (Miles Teller), who attends a Julliard-like music school, has the advantage of hyperbole—an abusive coach who coaxes performance beyond expectations by verbally and physically pushing his studio band to reach the best they can do.

Because Teller was already a drummer before he took this part, the many shots of him drumming at a furious pace as he pursues Buddy Rich’s ghost have a real feel, the bloody hands remotely suggesting a Christ-like devotion to perfection.  The sacrifices demanded by Fletcher rise above the trite into a moving commentary on the challenges necessary to become great, not just in music but in life itself.

When the driven Andrew must cut loose his girlfriend because he sees she’ll distract him from his goal of becoming the best drummer, it is apparent that bloody hands and wounded hearts will be the constant companions in the pursuit of greatness.

Writer/director Damien Chazelle and DP Charone Meir cut frequently to Andrew’s blazing, bloody drummer hands to show the painful grandeur of excellence. We are only too aware that few humans are capable of such extreme passion.

The core of Whiplash is the conflict between gentle nurturing (a popular learning philosophy over the last few decades) and the coaching that brooks no weakness, never admits greatness, and sometimes produces a Charlie Parker. Or Max Roach. Or Buddy Rich the apparent inspiration of Andrew’s ambition. The film is dominated by Fletcher’s take-no-prisoners method whereby he pushes to get performances beyond expectations.

Both Simmons as the musical DI and Teller as the ambitious young musician should get Oscar nominations. Whiplash is just that: a head-turning experience.

“I think being the greatest musician of the 20th century is anybody's idea of success.” Andrew

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at

One of the best movies of the year.