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Whiplash – Drum or die!

If you think from the trailer that Whiplash is just a movie about jazz musicians, then you couldn’t be more wrong. It’s actually an action movie, without any guns, or fist fights. (But still with actual blood in it.) It’s the ultimate duel between the master and the apprentice. A seemingly sadistic, over-abusive, cruel master, who either brings the best out of his apprentice, or breaks him forever. Whiplash is an almost two hour adrenaline rush.

There’s no point to be anything that the best of what you do. An absolute master of your art. Perhaps this could be the motto of Whiplash, Damien Chazelle’s low budget indie movie which is about a promising young drummer who enrols at a cutthroat music conservatory where his dreams of greatness are mentored by an instructor who will stop at nothing to realize a student’s potential.

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All that jazz

Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) yearns to be one of the jazz percussion greats, in the league of Buddy Rich or Gene Krupa. The fire under his backside, which could very well immolate his talent, arrives in the form of the fearsome studio bandleader and teacher at his Manhattan music school.

The Machiavellian teacher: the extremely talented jazz musician, Terence Fletcher (played by an absolutely fantastic J.K. Simmons here) takes interest in the young drummer, and takes him into his class. What begins as a promising career for Neiman, quickly turns into a nightmare, where his seemingly sadistic teacher tries to get “the best out of him” and his fellow student with questionable methods – to say at the least.

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You’ll love to hate him

J.K. Simmons was always excellent to play cynical assholes, but here, he’s at the state of his art. While you’ll hate him because of what he’s doing with his students, you can’t stop to find his cruel humour and cynical manners irresistible. The tension and understanding between him and Miles Teller is simply excellent and an incredible proof of the state of the art direction of young director Damien Chazelle.

This kind of “duel” between master and apprentice couldn’t be more accentuated with the fact that other relationships with other characters are much weaker. Neiman’s father is a teacher and failed writer and has a significantly weak personality. He is kind of trying to “baby-sit” his son, but fails even at that. As for Neiman’s girlfriend he only considers her as something which can stand between him and his drum career so she only has a very minor influence on him.

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Only music

The basic idea is that nothing can stand between Neiman and his jazz drum career – besides his own failures. Fletcher humiliates him again, again, and again (besides other students and the extreme tension comes from this fight between them. There’s actual blood in the movie, but not from the fights, but because Neiman hurts his hands by practicing so hard.

The final act cannot lead to anything else than tragedy or victory. We mentioned Machiavelli: we cannot help wondering if the end justifies those means and Chazelle’s movie is an excellent mean to ponder at those questions at its end.

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