Whiplash, dir/wr. Damien Chazelle, st. Miles Teller, J. K. Simmons, Paul Resier
"Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work", wrote Gustave Flaubert; such is the methodology and ambition of Andrew Neiman (Teller), an attendee of the prestigious Schaffer Conservatory, and burgeoning genius jazz-drummer, plucked from the chilled-out disorder of a beta jazz ensemble and dropped into the grinder of the pro Schaffer Studio Band, run with autocratic ferocity by Terence Fletcher (Simmons). Hollywood's thematically scholastic oeuvre is littered with kindly teachers, mentors, supporters and enablers, enlightened adults coaxing their wards to seize the day or play the sunset. At Schaffer, Fletcher's having none of that. He goads, provokes, and abuses his students to higher planes, dragging them kicking, screaming, and bleeding out of mediocrity and into arenas of brilliance. "There are no two words in the English language more harmful than 'Good Job'", he declares. For his part, Neiman is desperate to succeed, partly, we glean, from a genuine interest in the subject, and partially, from one revealing scene around the family dinner table, due to the indifference to him and his art by family and friends. At its core, Whiplash, based in part on writer/director Chazelle's autobiographical experiences, isn't so much a tale of talent-nurturing as it is an age-old fable of embattled wills, with student and teacher cyclically and vociferously feeding off each other's rule and distress, Fletcher's haranguing urging Neiman to push himself painfully, bloodily on, and in the course of it, allowing Fletcher to see how far in that case he can dial it up. This isn't aspiration and desire conceived as something beautiful and organic, it's a traumatic thirst, a near sickness for success. Teller, a natural real-life drummer, gives an exhaustive and exhausting performance as Neiman, a frenzied mass of frustrated capability, and Simmons, a recent recipient of a Golden Globe for his role, reveals real nuanced sociopathy, and emerges as one of the most compelling cinematic antagonists of the year past. The music - original and standard - is, of course, breathlessly mesmeric in the same way Clint Mansell's augmentation of Tchaikovsky laid a sonic bedrock for Aronofsky's Black Swan, a film that Whiplash unconsciously covets right up to and including its deliciously delirious finale. It won't seem like it at the time necessarily, curiously, as the characters and narration are just too absorbing, but Whiplash's musings on the cost of genius will inevitably play on your mind. A palpable hit then and a surefire winner in some capacity at this year's Academy Awards ceremony next month, but to be fair any film that ekes the most remarkable tension and catharsis from a nine-minute drum solo has my vote.