13 December 2014

Review: Whiplash

Genre: Drama

What a thrill to see J.K. Simmons be given the length to stride full-swing in this his most recent feature, a new piece by new director, Damien Chazelle. Whiplash works off the model most popularized by last decade's Summer box office hit The Devil Wears Prada (2006); an imperious, supercilious mentor professionally imprisons a young hopeful with a certain flair and ambition in a cell of his own making and there, by callous conduct, smarts the upstart into learning a thing or two about not only himself but also his direction. However, unlike its predecessor, this film does not suffer from an embarrassing imbalance in performances; no, here the actor portraying the upstart holds his own against the would-be tyranny of excellence across from him, in the almost possessed figure hewn by Mr. Simmons (Ms. Streep in the aforementioned). Indeed, Mr. Teller, a new actor of increasing note of late, delivers an in all respects good performance; bittered but not brittled, starved but not starving, at times raving but never risk-seeking, the central performance of this film makes the ingenu a bleeding reality, unlike the surreality of clichés and choreographed imperfections seen elsewhere. Still, that Mr. Simmons is the star of this show can be no secret; stormy and snide, a paragon of cutting menace almost eerie in its alternating placor, the mentor whom he verves verges on the ecstatic, but like the music he adores and rules so fervently never topples, no matter how severe the spin. Bravo, sir; bravo.

And, as for the work of Mr. Chazelle, to know when to hold and when to unleash with a tidal storm like what he had in his hands is akin to his character's knowing whether he be rushing or lagging: hair's breadth to the average, stunning to the expert.

The praise, however, must not escape note of the man's writing. This screenplay is a clean and simple, focused(!) investigation of a dialectic centuries old, an investigation that still layers on a beautiful novelty to it.

Grade: A-, bonsai.

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