Film Review: Whiplash

Usually when you come out of a film you know what you think, you understand if you’ve enjoyed it, if you’ve hated it and the emotions, thoughts and opinions it’s formed within you. But having just seen Wishlash, I can say, for the first time ever, I have absolutely no idea as to what I am currently experiencing. In fact, I’d almost go as far as to say I’m feeling somewhat numb.

Before you think that this sensation of devoid nothingness is going to lead to an echoing review, let me just say that I think a lot of how I am feeling is down to the fact that I’m still absorbing this film, still taking it in. Still coming to terms with the sheer power and presence it has. It’s a heavy hitting film that screams directly into you as it not so much conveys its narrative position but rather slams it down your throat.

Zero Dark Thirty Poster - Whiplash

This directness, this absolute resolve and belief in what it is trying to say is why I’ve come away having not really enjoy it, but also having not, not enjoyed it either. It lives in a middle ground that has stunned me and left me absolutely fascinated, intrigued and just a touch mesmerised. As a film it reminds me of Zero Dark Thirty, in that it has themes and questions running through it that it makes no apologies for bring squarely into the open. Refusing to hide them. There are no layers, or subtly to Whiplash, but that’s also its charm. It wants a debate with you and it’ll have on whether you want to get involved or not. And I love that.

The topic of Whiplash’s debate is simple – Can The End Result Ever Justify The Means? But the way it structures it’s argument is a psychology masterpiece. Laid out clearly before you are the text book symptoms of OCD, Stockholm Syndrome, Perfectionism, Bullying, Mental Conditioning; and a lot more besides. Whilst that may sound like a lot of ideas to portray in one film, it does so in a way that never feels forced, clichéd or unnecessary. Every action, reaction and event leads without effort from the one before and mentally drives the characters and story forward on to the next in a fitting and realistic way.

I must point out though, that while the story is stunning, thought provoking and I am convinced it is actually a metaphorical mirage on modern military conditions and training rather than a depiction of the New York Jazz world, I did find at times it started to drag its feet. It’s not an overly long film, coming in happily under 2 hours but because it’s so aggressive and demanding of you it feels it’s length. And there are moments when you just want it to move on, having made it’s point, won it’s argument.

But that isn’t a bad thing, it’s a test of endurance. A film of attrition. Every scene feels like it has a place and is needed to argue it’s point, and I even found myself in a strange position where by I kept expecting the ending, finding in my mind natural and fitting conclusions to the story. Points where I finally thought I could relax, expecting the credits, and instead it would hammer home another angle. Another twist. It doesn’t let you get, let you draw breath until it is 100% ready, and every justification and explanation has been made beyond doubt.

J.K. Simmons - Whiplash

Sadly, I don’t think this film will get the mainstream credit it deserves because a lot of people will look at it and see a strange story about drumming and jazz without any big name actors and give it pre-judgemental space. And that is such a shame. Miles Teller as our lead percussionist puts in a performance deserving of more praise than he seems to be getting, bringing to life the mental torment forced upon him realistically and accurately; while J.K. Simmons as the Drill Sergeant-esque Conductor is an absolute shoe in for Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars and, while tough to watch is an absolute delight, presenting a master class in character driven acting and one of the finest performances I’ve seen in years.

You cannot over look the fact that this isn’t the type of “throw away” film,you won’t want to watch it munching on a tub or popcorn, but I cannot stress enough how much you should see it. Yes it’s hard hitting, in your face and exhausting, but Whiplash uses these traits in a positive way. It turns them into its strengths. It really get’s under your skin and I know, that for the next few days, every moment of broken concentration or wandering thought will drag me straight back into the film, clarifying points, reshaping opinions, rebuilding ideas.

It’s left me blown away because it’s left me wanting to watch it again and again; not because it’s indulgent visually or entertainingly, but rather, because I want to hear what it has to say. Again and again.

8 out of 10 stars (8 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

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