Okay, wherever you think this is going, I can promise you you’re wrong. You probably think this is going to be a Dead Poets Society-type deal, where the charismatic teacher helps a troubled student realize his full potential and even learns something about himself along the way. No no no. Whiplash simultaneously chronicles of an abusive relationship and an epic battle of two creative minds while providing a dark look into the creative process. If you want an uplifting teacher/student drama, look elsewhere.
Now, Miles Teller is great, yes. His moments of meekness are just as compelling and believable as his moments of anger and egotism. But as good as he is, J. K. Simmons is just in another world. It’s so great to see him finally break out into a near-leading role after having been relegated to smaller roles in the past, like J. Jonah Jameson in the original Spider-Man trilogy and the voice of Tenzin in The Legend of Korra on Nickelodeon. Fletcher simmers with rage constantly, and his calm, stoic moments are just as terrifying as his fire-breathing outbursts. It’s the rare performance that is loud and showy not just for the sake of it. He is horrifying, manipulative, and impossible to stop watching. The two of them take the mentor and mentee dynamic to twisted, twisted depths.
Fletcher’s teaching methods are beyond harsh; they’re abusive. He hurls furniture and breaks instruments. He throws around homophobic, anti-Semitic, racist and sexist slurs with outrageous regularity. He justifies his actions by saying he pushes his students beyond where they think they can go, and that’s how the world will get its next great jazz musician; the next Louis Armstrong or Buddy Rich should be able to handle some emotional battery and a flying chair here and there. But is there a line dividing motivation and abuse? Are his morally reprehensive teaching methods justified if they get results? That’s a question that goes tantalizingly unanswered.
Whiplash is the most exciting movie of the year so far. More intense than Edge of Tomorrow, more unsettling than Gone Girl, more suspenseful than most horror movies. All this from a movie about a jazz drummer.