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Whiplash is a symphony of tension

Sony Pictures Classics

Whiplash

Music ends in a taut battle of wills.

Our Rating: 10 out of 10

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Chris Olszewski, Opinion Editor

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If one is pressed for time and needs a visual summary of Whiplash (and they should watch the film in its entirety regardless), they only need to watch one scene: in this particular scene, J.K. Simmons’s character, band conductor Terence Fletcher, is pushing his students to do better through a string of insults and an hours long stretch of putting three young drummers in the hot seat again and again until he has found perfection, his “Charlie Parker,” as he states later in the film.  Fletcher is relentless, stopping his young musicians within milliseconds of starting with a simple gesture of his hand. Equally as relentless is Andrew Niemann, the drummer who eventually wins the part.

The crux of Whiplash is the constant battle of wits between Niemann and Fletcher, the former a jazz drumming prodigy who strives to be one of the greats no matter the cost, the latter a drill instructor in the guise of a music teacher willing to push him there. The dynamic between these two and their individual performances could have easily been over-acted or hackneyed, but Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons, as Niemann and Fletcher respectively, play off each other with the intensity of a long, drawn-out heavyweight boxing match.  The energy and tension build throughout the film until it breaks not once, but twice.

Perhaps the prolonged ending could have hamstrung the film at the finish line, but this would be to discount Miles Teller’s drumming, which is fantastic. The drumming gives the film its constant energy, the final piece in a war film analogy, with the hits of the drum as bullets. The cinematography follows this philosophy, giving the film a tense, energetic atmosphere. The film keeps you glued to the screen and on your toes, wondering where Fletcher will strike next and when one of our main characters is going to break.

Whiplash is a psychological thriller in the truest sense of the term. Both characters are three-dimensional, yet the audience is constantly left guessing what emotions are true and which are manipulative. Neither character is likable, but they are gripping all the same.

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Free of Bull, Full of Bulldogs
Whiplash is a symphony of tension