Caution! Spoilers Ahead!
Whiplash may go down as one of the most underrated films of the year. I openly admit that it was barely a blip on my radar until the Academy Award nominations came out, but then when I saw it sitting there I went back and looked at the trailer. The trailer brought me to the theater and I left happy.
The only proper way to describe this movie is Full Metal Jacket meets Mr. Holland’s Opus. A young man (Miles Teller) enters into the most prestigious music school in the country and is quickly moved into the top studio band run by Fletcher (J.K. Simmons). In many ways, I have to imagine this is what hell would be like for most musicians.
Over the weeks that follow his entry into the band, Teller is forced to endure the torture of Simmons as he claims he is trying to push him. However, in doing so he is using a vernacular that generally made me blush during the movie and I grew up on military bases. Everything comes to a head when Teller arrives late to a band concert without his sticks and in going to retrieve them, he crashes and still attempts to perform the concert minutes after his car is flipped. After being generally bad during the concert and bleeding on the drum kit, Simmons kicks him out of the band and the resulting fight caused Teller to be removed from school.
In the weeks that followed, Teller is used to have Simmons removed from the school as a teacher, but he hooks up with him in a jazz bar where Simmons invites him to perform with his band. Teller agrees but during the concert, Simmons adds a piece that Teller is unaware of. Teller is shamed into leaving the stage.
This is where it gets interesting though. The whole movie to this point has been building to a crescendo to this moment. The next ten minutes are what get this movie nominated for an Oscar. Simmons during their meeting in the jazz bar says that he always behaved the way he did pushing for the next great musician and that is all Teller wanted out of life. After leaving the stage, Teller returns and proceeds to lead the entire band into the planned music. For the next ten minutes it is actual real brilliance in acting.
Teller takes the kit and Simmons has a look of despise that actually makes me cringe a little just thinking about it. Teller starts the piece earlier than Simmons intended and an on stage battle between the two begins to take shape. Simmons genuinely showing a hatred that is hardly ever matched in any sort of film I have ever seen and Teller demonstrating a certain amount of spite that is just hard to replicate. They make it through the first piece and then Teller just continues on the drum kit to the dismay of Simmons but in watching what is perhaps the best drum solo that a production team can put together Simmons changes from antagonist back to teacher.
The ten minutes that are the end of this movie may be the most gut wrenching acting job that I have ever seen. I am truly on the edge of my seat rooting for Teller and then seeing that Simmons was truly being genuine about pushing people to create that next great. These ten minutes make a movie that was at times a little slow to develop the characters into one of the greatest movies of the year.
If I had to take a guess at the Academy Awards, I would still put Birdman ahead of this film, but it is much closer than I would have ever expected when I first saw this among the listed nominations.