Monday, 26 January 2015

Whiplash (15)

Awards season is a funny old time for the movies - everything seems to be a 'worthy' biopic about someone important or clever. Or both.

Or it's the oddball 'idea' films - like Boyhood, which sounded like a great idea til you sat down and watched it - that have got the panels all agog and excited.

Then there's that film about drumming.

Let's face it, you've heard about this one. You even thought it might be good, but then you went and watched Paddington again because it's that film about drumming.

And Whiplash is that film about drumming.

But it also isn't.

What it really is is a gripping, thrilling, intense psychological battle between a man who knows best and an underdog who thinks he knows better.

Think of it as Full Metal Jacket meets Rocky.

With drums.

And jazz.

In fact, this is a jazz film, pure and simple.

Not just in the sounds and noises that come crashing off the screen, but in the way it is shot and edited, with little flicks and tricks, fills and rolls popping up at the oddest moments.

You first notice it when Miles Teller's Andrew is ordering popcorn at the cinema, and once noticed it can't be un-noticed.

Instead it becomes a joy to see and look for as the passion and tension mounts.

Because if there's one thing this film has in spades is passion.

At the heart of everything is J K Simmons, playing a film villain so cruel and cold you can't help but like him.

It's a performance so note perfect that it's simply baffling that he's only up for supporting actor gongs - his presence fills every frame of this movie, even if he's not on screen.

And this is just one of the things that makes Whiplash just so damn good.

It looks great, it sounds great, the drumming is great - but without the performances to back it up, Whiplash would have dropped the beat.

But Simmons and Teller (the person who saw Two Night Stand never saw this in him) deliver with such intensity that everyone else fades into the background.

And it's not just Simmons' Fletcher who you hate - Teller's Andrew is equally loathsome.

And yet you are drawn to both of them, which is a measure of just how good both actors are.

In many ways Whiplash shouldn't work.

It's a bit quirky, a bit pretentious (it has a brief message to the music industry, you won't miss it), it has laughs - and while all that is going on it's putting you through the emotional wringer.

But there is so much heart and soul infused through this film, so much pure love for the subject matter and the characters, that the whole thing comes together so beautifully.

There are even laughs and chuckles to be had ("are you rushing or are you dragging?").

I won't lie, approaching this film I was conflicted.

On the one hand, the trailer was enough to get me excited - but, you know, it's about drumming. And I know drummers. They're not normal.

But then nor is Whiplash. And that's what makes it so damn great.

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