Whiplash, the dazzling debut film from writer/director Damien Chazelle, is undoubtedly the most intense and nerve-racking movie of the year. Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons deliver performances of a lifetime and Chazelle proves to be just as virtuosic behind the camera as the musicians/characters in the film.
Teller stars as Andrew Neiman, a fresh faced, first year student at the finest music academy in NYC. He's a nineteen year old drum prodigy who yearns to be "one of the greats." His drive is noticed early on by the school's infamous head conductor, Terence Fletcher (Simmons), who's notorious for pushing his students beyond the edge of sanity to achieve results. What happens next is a mind blowing update of the classic unstoppable force vs immoveable object troupe, or Tom vs Jerry, Itchy vs Scratchy...pick your poison. Neiman's unbridled passion for his craft, coupled with Fletcher's blood lust for immortality amongst the pantheons of jazz greats, results in a terrifying onscreen rivalry that slowly but surely morphs into the weirdest buddy picture of modern cinema. Neiman and Fletcher may be at odds but as the film progresses we see that they are really just two sides of the same OCD riddled coin. Can the student surpass the teacher, or will he be decapitated by flying objects during rehearsal? Imagine Anakin Skywalker being trained by Lee Ermey from Full Metal Jacket instead of Obi-wan and you'll start see what Whiplash is all about.
The film's opening scene foreshadows the rest of the movie. Neiman is practicing alone in an empty classroom and then Fletcher pops in and talks some trash to motivate him. That's basically the entire film in a nutshell. It's amazing how such simple story, with a minimal supporting cast, can prove so captivating in the long run. Chazelle's script, inspired by his own experiences at music school, is sharp and packed to the brim with band geek jargon [TEMPO TEMPO TEMPO] and nods to jazz legends; just as his choice of cuts and closeups really beefs up the tension during the already insanely intense performance sequences. Throw in J.K. Simmon's mind blowing, career defining performance and you've got not only one the best films of the year, but one of the best debut films ever.