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Music Discipline

Daniel McFadden/Sony Pictures Classics

Whiplash (2014)

In “Whiplash,” Juilliard-esque Shaffer Conservatory of Music freshman Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller) gets handpicked by exacting and much-feared teacher, Terrence Fletcher (J. K. Simmons), to be an alternate drummer in a jazz ensemble intended for the competition circuit.

Fletcher sizes Neyman up while exchanging pleasantries, and quickly proceeds to humiliate and bully him with what little biographical information he has gathered. Mr. Simmons hurls orders, insults and obscenities like a cross between Armin Mueller-Stahl’s tyrannical father from “Shine,” R. Lee Ermey’s drill sergeant from “Full Metal Jacket” and his own Aryan leader from “Oz.”

Actual musicianship is pretty much nonexistent here, as the competitiveness is even fiercer than among the dancers in “Black Swan” or even “Showgirls.” Fletcher pits Neyman against the regular drummer Tanner (Nate Lang), and forces them to try out for parts until their hands literally bleed.

Neyman’s solitude is reinforced with him shunning his girlfriend (Melissa Benoist) and father (Paul Reiser) to offer up his personal life to be completely consumed by music. They don’t seem to “get” the importance of his life goal; and any bragging rights earned at an elite conservatory are quickly glossed over at the family dinner table in favor of his cousin’s participation in third-tier college football.

Writer-director Damien Chazelle, who previously co-scripted “The Last Exorcism Part II,” ascribes horror characteristics to a naturalistic story masterfully so that they are effective but never intrusive or gratuitous.

“Whiplash” initially appears to denounce that blurred line between tough love and sadistic abuse, but then seems to recant its stance a few gimmicky plot twists later. Any educator working with young people today will tell you that particular teaching method would not fly; but that’s the only glaring false note in a story that will reverberate emotionally for days. Perhaps this would have been better off as a period piece.


Opens on Oct. 10 in New York and Los Angeles and on Jan. 16, 2015 in Britain

Written and directed by Damien Chazelle; director of photography, Sharone Meir; edited by Tom Cross; music by Justin Hurwitz; production design by Melanie Paizis-Jones; produced by Jason Blum, Helen Estabrook, David Lancaster and Michel Litvak; released by Sony Pictures Classics. Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes. This film is rated R by M.P.A.A. and 15 by B.B.F.C.

WITH: Miles Teller (Andrew), J. K. Simmons (Fletcher), Melissa Benoist (Nicole), Paul Reiser (Jim), Austin Stowell (Ryan), Nate Lang (Carl), Max Kasch (Dorm Neighbor) and Damon Gupton (Mr. Kramer).


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