Sunday, February 22, 2015

Video review: "Whiplash"

As I’m writing this, the Academy Awards ceremony has not yet happened, but by the time you’re reading it J.K. Simmons will mostly likely have claimed the Oscar for best supporting actor. He deserves it. Possibly writer/director Damien Chazelle has picked up his own golden statuette for adapted screenplay, based on his own short film. Again, highly warranted.

“Whiplash” was the best film of 2014, the harrowing tale of a promising young musician and the conductor who both inspires and degrades him. It’s the sort of movie that sticks in your craw, needling your soul long after you’ve seen it.

Miles Teller plays Andrew Neyman, an understudy drummer at the country’s finest music conservatory. He’s thrilled when the powerful head conductor chooses him to play in the top jazz band. But Lawrence Fletcher (Simmons) commences a cycle of abuse and psychological torture against the young prodigy.

He screams, he spits, he throws things – even slaps the boy around in the name of keeping proper time. Then, when Andrew starts to crumble under this tidal wave of intimidation, Fletcher mocks him as “one of those single-tear people.”

He does this, Fletcher says, to make Andrew a better musician. And there’s no denying the lad pushes himself to the limits of his ability as a result. But as he comes to resemble his tormentor more and more, we’re forced to ask ourselves what the price of ambition is.

“Whiplash” is a searing character study that raises challenging questions we’d maybe rather not ask ourselves.

Video extras are excellent. The DVD contains a feature length commentary track featuring Chazelle and Simmons – I always feel these are best when at least some of the principle actors are involved. There’s also an interview feature from the Toronto International Film Festival featuring both men plus Teller.

The Blu-ray version also has a deleted scene with commentary, interviews with famous drummers discussing their craft, as well as Chazelle’s original short film with commentary.

Movie: A
Extras: B-plus

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