‘Whiplash’ an explosive story of music and obsession

Tom Long
The Detroit News

‘Whiplash’ is electric from beginning to end, a musical story of obsession, frustration and outright cruelty built on two knockout performances.

The first comes from Miles Teller, playing Andrew, an ambitious jazz drummer attending a prestigious school for musicians in New York City. Andrew is practicing drums alone in a room one night when in walks Fletcher (J.K. Simmons, a sure Oscar nominee), the school’s imposing jazz band director. Andrew ends up with an invitation to the band’s next rehearsal. But, as with just about everything Fletcher does, there’s a nasty catch. Andrew is told to arrive bright and early, which he does, only to find the other band members arriving hours later. Soon he’s witness to Fletcher’s teaching style — dictatorial, exacting, demeaning and laced with profanities.

One minute Andrew’s in favor, the next he’s being insulted. He’s not alone — all the players cower before Fletcher, who dresses all in black and stands studly as a drill sergeant.

Fletcher is obviously deeply ticked off about something, but Andrew is no picture of mental health either. He meets and falls in love with a girl (Melissa Benoist), but then leaves her because he figures she will eventually become a distraction from his drumming. Andrew practices until his hands bleed, he’s that serious.

But nothing can stem the internal bleeding caused by Fletcher’s attacks, which become ever more constant. At one point both men are hurt by their relationship, but writer-director Damien Chazelle guides them back toward seeming reconciliation. That’s when things really explode.

The music in “Whiplash” is smoking, but it’s really secondary to the drive and inner turmoil Andrew and Fletcher are slave to. This is a big band battlefield.




Rated R for strong language including some sexual references

Running time: 107 minutes

“Whiplash” (R ) Two great performances drive this story an obsessed jazz drummer (Miles Teller) and the cruel teacher (J.K. Simmons) who demands perfection from him. (107 minutes) GRADE: A-