COURTESY DANIEL MCFADDEN/SONY PICTURES CLASSICSMiles Teller

COURTESY DANIEL MCFADDEN/SONY PICTURES CLASSICSMiles Teller

‘Whiplash’ beats with suspense, style

Writer-director Damien Chazelle embraces his protagonist’s relentless quest for excellence and addresses the madness that such obsession can yield in his master-pupil psychothriller “Whiplash.” Contrivances prevent the film from being truly great, but it’s a compelling must-see nonetheless.

Chazelle (“Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench”) puts a wicked twist on the dedicated-teacher plot and combines it with elements that bring to mind boot-camp action fare and “Black Swan” and other Darren Aronofsky tales about people who pursue passions to the point of self-destruction. While the story centers on a jazz drummer, you don’t have to like jazz to be stirred by its wannabe Buddy Rich.

Not wanting to be like his failed-writer father (Paul Reiser), 19-year-old Andrew (Miles Teller) practices maniacally on his drums at a prestigious Manhattan conservatory.

He impresses Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), the intimidating conductor of the school’s top jazz ensemble. Lean and bald, with a hipster look and a scary vein on the side of his head, Fletcher verbally and sometimes physically assaults students who lag even remotely behind. “Not quite my tempo,” he says, cutting off the band with a menacing shake of his fist. At one point, he throws a chair. He humiliates Andrew in front of the others by deriding Andrew’s dad.

Seeking jazz glory, Andrew tolerates the bullying. He drums until his hands bleed. He callously dumps his girlfriend (Melissa Benoist).

Andrew becomes a primary drummer in Fletcher’s ensemble, and then is demoted by the machinating Fletcher. Andrew’s future could hinge on a high-profile competition.

A traffic incident results in a dangerous mad dash, a development that drips with cliche.

It’s also hard to buy that nobody criticizes Fletcher’s homophobic, racist and anti-Semitic language. Fletcher, a sadist who runs his class like a drill sergeant, is so over-the-top, viewers have to shift into allegorical gear to believe him.

Yet Chazelle builds suspense superbly, and the performances triumph. The film is an entertaining thriller, a powerful emotional duel, a moving portrait of a young artist finding his path, and a nonjudgmental look at consequences of excessive teaching methods.

Simmons is daunting and extraordinary from the moment Chazelle introduces the black-clad monster, but it is Teller, a former drummer, who carries the film. He is both physically and emotionally gripping as a young man with an obsession that, were this more of a fairy tale, might be comparable to the “Red Shoes” heroine.

The title refers to a composition that Fletcher’s students play.

REVIEW

Whiplash

three and a half stars

Starring: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Paul Reiser, Melissa Benoist

Written and directed by: Damien Chazelle

Rated R

Running time: 1 hour, 46 minutes

artsDamien ChazelleMiles TellerMoviesWhiplash

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Advocates with the San Francisco Public Bank Coalition hold a rally outside City Hall before the Board of Supervisors were to vote on a resolution supporting the creation of a public banking charter on Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Should San Francisco run its own public bank? The debate returns

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, momentum was building for San Francisco to… Continue reading

Apprenticeship instructor Mike Miller, center, demonstrates how to set up a theodolite, a hyper-sensitive angle measuring device, for apprentices Daniel Rivas, left, Ivan Aguilar, right, and Quetzalcoatl Orta, far right, at the Ironworkers Local Union 377 training center in Benicia on June 10, 2021. (Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters)
California’s affordable housing crisis: Are labor union requirements in the way?

By Manuela Tobias CalMatters California lawmakers introduced several bills this year that… Continue reading

People fish at a dock at Islais Creek Park on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
What Islais Creek tells us about rising sea levels in San Francisco

Islais Creek is an unassuming waterway along San Francisco’s eastern industrial shoreline,… Continue reading

Organizer Jas Florentino, left, explains the figures which represent 350 kidnapped Africans first sold as slaves in the United States in 1619 in sculptor Dana King’s “Monumental Reckoning.” The installation is in the space of the former Francis Scott Key monument in Golden Gate Park. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
What a reparations program would look like in The City

‘If there’s any place we can do it, it’s San Francisco’

Officer Joel Babbs, pictured at a protest outside the Hall of Justice in 2017, is representing himself in an unusually public police misconduct matter. <ins>(Courtesy Bay City News)</ins>
The strange and troubling story of Joel Babbs: What it tells us about the SFPD

The bizarre and troubling career of a whistle-blowing San Francisco police officer… Continue reading

Most Read