This relationship, between a teacher who offers much needed guidance and a student with talent ripe for sculpting, sees the boundaries between mentor and prodigy becoming increasingly blurred as Fletcher's pursuit of perfection turns dangerous. Structured like a typical sports movie but scripted, shot and (superbly) edited by Tom Cross like a thriller, Whiplash is an expertly crafted examination of the questions regarding whether talent comes naturally or whether - through unforgiving means - it can be taught. As the brilliant but unapologetically brutal Fletcher, Simmons delivers an astonishing performance of physical and mental supremacy, embodying a character whose muscular, imposing physique and controlling hand gestures offer external signifiers of his foreboding nature, not to mention what's sure to become a quotable line for the ages: "not quite my tempo." Loosely based on Chazelle’s own experience as a wannabe drummer, what begins as a standard novice-to-maestro story slowly, achingly, turns into something of two-pronged portrait of two men desperate for both the pursuit and preservation of perfection.
What's all the more fascinating is how Andrew and Fletcher are yin and yang, with the former craving the approval of the latter just as much as the latter demands and exploits the best from the former; a protégé primed for ensuring the future of great musical accompaniment remains very much intact. While Chazelle goes to gruelling lengths to explore Andrew's willingness to push himself as far as he can go, as well as the psychology behind an at once intimidating, cruel and motivating figure such is Fletcher, he lets the surrounding characters and their relationships to the protagonist fall by the wayside. This is best embodied by an underdeveloped love interest for Andrew (played by Melissa Benoist), who succumbs to a generically ingrained narrative template when Andrew's motivation and arrogance reach fever pitch. This, however, doesn't detract from Whiplash, which remains a riveting and compulsive film of sustained ambiguity, skilfully encapsulated in a prolonged final sequence that's a crescendo of audacity and skill both in front of and behind the lens.
Edward Frost | @Frost_Ed