Saturday, November 22, 2014
Pulsing, coursing through like a river after a hurricane. It keeps going. It is in a constant state of on. There are no downbeats. You cannot take five. In or out. This is Whiplash. This is cinema. And it dares to ask "What drives a person? What makes one crack?" When someone's skull is constantly pounded, metaphorically speaking, how long before they throw their hands up and go to the head injury ward? How long before they have had enough? Even more so, why go through the torture? Is it worth it? I imagine Damien Chazelle, the director of Whiplash, only has one answer. Yes. Whiplash tells of one man's arduous journey to be the best he can be. Bloody fingers, psychological abuse, and car crashes are not even enough to get in his way. He is an all-devouring bulldozer made of confidence and pure musical talent. A warrior of the auditorium. The first shot of the movie, we see Andrew (Miles Teller's character). We see him through a doorway at the end of a hall, he is drumming. The camera pulls in. His drumming becomes more intense. This is his story, we know this from the start. Chazelle could make this story lengthy and complicated, filling up space with flashbacks and unneeded fleshing out of things that are damn well fleshed out already. A much less talented filmmaker would buckle in some of the more intense scenes. In one of the film's many intense moments, Andrew is center stage playing the drums. One slip up and his musical career is finished. Like Andrew, Chazelle powers through. He keeps things short and too-the-point. Chazelle does not lean on cliches or try and add on more. Economical is a good word to describe it. He does what needs to be done. Whiplash is Chazelle's directorial debut, and reminded me quite a bit of different director's film debut. Reservoir Dogs, weirdly enough. Both movies are exceedingly well-written and trim out the fat. Conversations are snappy and good, but they don't add in unnecessary odds and ends to pad things out. Every scene needs to be there. It can be flashy and showy where it needs to be, but not anymore than that. The flashiest and showiest part of the film is J.K. Simmons' teacher character, Terence Fletcher. A brutal, abusive, scary monster of a man who dominates the screen like he's King Kong when onscreen. Under less adept and much shakier hands, Simmons would be overdone and completely take over the film. At times it seems like he will, but Chazelle knows what he's doing and will always bring the camera back to Teller. He knows what story he's telling, and he'll make sure he's telling it right. What Chazelle also avoids doing is making Simmons so completely evil that he becomes nothing more than a rallying point for Teller's character. A symbol he is not. The teacher is unfathomably brutal. A fireman's hose of anger and insults. Yet, he thinks what he's doing is truly right. He thinks he's a good teacher. A guy who will push his students to be the next greats. This is a man with drive and feeling beneath his skin. He's still evil, but he is more than just an angry face to root against. Hey, even Hitler had emotions. It's just whether one chooses to acknowledge that he did. Chazelle understands fully, and that's one of the many reasons Whiplash succeeds. The film is lean, exhilarating, with one of the best endings I've seen in a while. It's not perfect per se, but it's good! There are all the right cogs, gears, and buttons for a good film. All that's needed is a talented engineer to put it all into place as a fully-functioning machine. Luckily, Whiplash has a damn good engineer.