whiplashBlood on the Cymbals
Stars: Miles Teller, J. K. Simmons, Melissa Benoist, Austin Stowell, Jayson Blair, Kavita Patil, Michael Cohen, Kofi Siriboe and Paul Reiser
Director/Scriptwriter: Damien Chazelle
Composer:  Justin Horowitz
Cinematography: Sharone Meir
Bold Films/Sony Pictures Classic
Rating: R for language
Running Length: 105 Minutes
Screened at the Kansas International Film Festival (KIFF) October.10, 2014
This “Whiplash” is the longer version of a script by director Damien Chazelle, who did the first “Whiplash” as an 18-minute short film. J. K. Simmons (from “Spider-Man” films and here as Fletcher) starred in the short film as the band director, but Johnny Simmons was the drummer. Now, Miles Teller plays the role of Neiman. The short film had a good reception in 2013 at Sundance, so in 2014 we have a full-length film of talent, ambition (on both sides of the baton) and cruelty, also on both sides of the baton. The apple doesn't fall far from the proverbial Talent Tree. This film is opening slowly around the country and I saw it at a Film Festival in the Kansas City area. It does pack a punch. Miles Teller (Neiman) did a great deal of the drumming sequences seen in the film which seem faster than the speed of sound. “Whiplash,” the name of a composition and what the audience feels after watching those hands move, pits a student against his teacher, talent against talent, like a rock against a rock. How to inspire someone to greatness…can it be done? Is it worth the effort?  Does talent have an iron core inside or cardboard? Those in the audience who have encountered situations like this whether in music, sports, academics or business, will relate.
“Whiplash” opens with the camera going down a hallway to a music school practice room. We see a student practicing on the drums and really going all out.  I thought he sounded like Gene Krupa, but the student later says his idol is Buddy Rich. This is average playing compared to what comes later. Simmons is a hardball teacher who pits students against each other, comes on friendly, but when he gets their attention, the sarcasm starts and it is like Clint Eastwood in his military films. You either have it, or you don't. Neiman comes to Fletcher’s attention and from then on, the battle begins. Fletcher doesn't want anything to threaten his status at the school or his prize-winning bands. Neiman is eager for a chance to prove himself and that means no time for dating girls. The teacher works for perfection. Paul Reiser, as Neiman’s father, begins to wonder just what is happening at that school. The inevitable confrontation comes and it is a whopper. By this time, the audience will recover their hearing in a week, acting is at fever pitch and you just go with the flow.
There is plenty of profanity here and it is used as a weapon against people. Be aware. When one enters college, or a music school, life changes forever. You are out to prove yourself. Miles Teller has a face for concentration and when he is in the drummer’s seat, seems a natural in the role. The percussionist is at the heart of the band as everyone centers around the beat. (and did you know that drums are tuned, also?) Teller is at his best in the band. J. K., Simmons, with his muscular body and bald head, looks like a drill sergeant and acts like one. Dealing shame is just another day on the job for him.  You wonder why people act and teach like this. Was life rough for them and they are passing that on? Do they see talent idling on the sidelines and want to give it a push? Are they just plain mean?  As for the rest of the cast, Melissa Benoist (Nicole) is the girl who likes Neiman but can't get close to him, while Austin Stowell (Ryan) and Jayson Blair (Travis) are two drummers in competition with Neiman. It’s like musical chairs. Who will end up in the winning spot.
“Whiplash” is an intense film and it caught my eye right away with the first camera angle. Who practices late into the night? Only someone who wants it all, including blisters and blood on the cymbals…or, elsewhere in other fields, bleeding feet and ankle braces or freezing hands from hitting the ice. No guts, no glory.
Oscar nominations could be from this film.
Copyright 2014 Marie Asner
For other film reviews of musicians, see the following:
The Song
Conducting Hope
Hava Nagila 
Inside Llewyn Davis