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

Just Posted

Cabernet sauvignon grapes sat in a container after being crushed at Smith-Madrone Winery in St. Helena. (Courtesy Smith-Madrone Winery)
San Francisco’s ‘Champagne problems’ — Wine industry suffers supply chain woes

‘Everywhere you turn, things that were easy are no longer easy’

Glasses behind the bar at LUNA in the Mission District on Friday, Oct. 15, 2021. Glassware is just one of the many things restaurants have had trouble keeping in stock as supply chain problems ripple outward. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
SF restaurants face product shortages and skyrocketing costs

‘The supply chain crisis has impacted us in almost every way imaginable’

A Giants fans hangs his head in disbelief after the Dodgers won the NLDS in a controversial finish to a tight Game 5. (Chris Victorio/Special to The Examiner)
Giants dream season ends at the hands of the Dodgers, 2-1

A masterful game comes down to the bottom of the ninth, and San Francisco came up short

<strong>Workers with Urban Alchemy and the Downtown Streets Team clean at Seventh and Market streets on Oct. 12. <ins>(Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)</ins> </strong>
<ins></ins>
Why is it so hard to keep San Francisco’s streets clean?

Some blame bureaucracy, others say it’s the residents’ fault

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi — seen in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday — touted Congressional Democrats’ infrastructure bill in San Francisco on Thursday. (Stefani Reynolds/The New York Times)
Pelosi touts infrastructure bill as it nears finish line

Climate change, social safety net among major priorities of Democrats’ 10-year funding measure

Most Read