Sunday, 7 September 2014

WHIPLASH - Review By Greg Klymkiw - TIFF 2014 Special Presentation

Student and Teacher: FULL METAL JACKET - as it should be!
"GOOD" is never good enough!

"You are a worthless pansy-ass who's now weeping and slobbering all over my drums like a nine-year-old girl! 
Whiplash (2014)
Dir. Damien Chazelle
Starring: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Melissa Benoist, Paul Reiser, Chris Mulkey
Review By Greg Klymkiw
"If you deliberately sabotage my band, I will fuck you like a pig." - Teacher to Student, Whiplash
So barks Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), a jazz instructor at a tony private music conservatory in the dirtiest of towns, the glorious NYC. Fletcher is a character who makes Gny. Sgt. Hartman (R. Lee Ermey) in Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket look like your kindly old Grandma Apple Doll.

There's no two ways about it.

Fisher's a major-league prick-to-the-nth-degree, but his aim is true.

Do you think I'm fuckin' stupid? I know you were "the one"!
He believes his students are the best of the best, but frankly, for him, that's not good enough. He demands they push their gifts harder than a prize studhorse slams a mare in heat. He demands true force. He demands self-inflicted pain as well as the infliction of pain. He demands greatness. Fletcher might be bi-polar or passive-aggressive (accent on aggressive), but he knows damn well that he must be cruel to be kind. Inspiration comes to the talented only by slamming their faces repeatedly against a brick wall, and then, like some abusive parent, offering words of solace (when warranted) and continuing the cycle again and again until the student either breaks through or is broken. It's the only way. And God help you if you're just "good". The Gospel According to Fletcher (and frankly, any such teacher in the real world) is this: "There are no two words in the English language more harmful than good job."

I personally believe in this philosophy and perhaps it's why I partially and so strongly responded to Whiplash, the searing story of Fletcher and his cruel, brilliant and passionate relationship with Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller), a drumming prodigy who seeks to be greater than great.

Being the greatest musician of the 20th century is anyone's idea of success.
That said, I think my personal connection to this philosophy is a drop in the bucket compared to the nasty, rip-snorting drama writer-director Damien Chazelle has wrought with this relentless sledgehammer-to-the-face of a film. I've not been so charged during a movie in a long-time. In fact, Fletcher's ferocious demands and almost vindictive bashing of students' psyches, and in particular, that of the equally obsessed student Andrew, has the visceral force of a great vigilante picture with equally compelling cat and mice at the forefront - only here, the mouse definitely becomes no mere cat, but a man - all MAN and a real one at that! Simmons's performance knocks you on your ass, but Teller holds his own with the man of iron resolve.

Add to the mix, gorgeously gritty cinematography by Sharone Meir (a delicious blend of 70s pulp and colour-tinged noir) and the editing of Tom Cross that has you breathless - almost from beginning to end. I say "almost", only because Chazelle's screenplay wisely settles down with occasional moments of tenderness twixt father (Paul Reiser) and son and the less-compelling, but ultimately necessary doomed romantic relationship between Andrew and a sweet, young thing (Melissa Benoist) who must come last on the lad's list of life priorities.

What I love most about Cross's cutting is the fact that neither he nor Chazelle back away from making bold (some might erroneously say "obvious") cuts that draw attention to the virtuosity of the cinematic storytelling. I'd argue, however, it works in tandem with the mise-en-scene and the screenplay to drive a story about the sheer intensity of creation. As well, one cannot deny the tale's rhythms of mano a mano twixt Fletcher and Andrew. The act and art of creation is a war zone and Cross understands the macho tempo of this dynamic. Though Cross's cutting is flashy, it never once descends to the herby-jerky of so much contemporary cutting. Part of this comes from the wise compositions Meir and Chazelle have settled upon as well as a spectacular retro lighting scheme that plunges us into that astonishing world of 70s existential male angst - more than appropriate given the natural of the story.

The climactic sequence Chazelle delivers is a musical equivalent to a great action-suspense set-piece. Here is where the aforementioned collaboration between Cross, Meir and Chazelle explodes in all its richness. It had me breathless and on the edge of my seat upon a first viewing. Subsequent viewings have allowed me to bask in its sheer cinematic razzle-dazzle.

The movie is not at all pleasant, but its very disagreeable tone transcends all pathetic notions of palatability and finally serves up one entertaining and provocative series of cinematic blows to the gut.

The Film Corner Rating: **** 4-Stars

Whiplash is a Special Presentation at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival. For further info, visit the TIFF Website HERE. Released via Mongrel Media.