A ‘must-see’ small film

Philip Cu-Unjieng - The Philippine Star

Film review: Whiplash

MANILA, Philippines -After watching the indie film Whiplash, it’s easy to understand how it captured this year’s Sundance Special Jury Prize Audience award. A film with a simple premise, following the travails of an aspiring jazz drummer in a prestigious music academy, it parlays bravura performances, a tension-filled dramatic screenplay and crisp editing into an exhilarating examination of how pounds of flesh can be extracted in the pursuit of excellence in one’s career choice.

Miles Teller plays the novice drummer. JK Simmons is downright astonishing as the music teacher who prods, pushes, belittles and demands nothing less than perfection, from his jazz orchestra. It’s a performance that’s both chilling and admirable, filled with depth and texture that should land him a Best Supporting Actor nomination at the Oscars next year.

All teachers should rush and watch this film. Anyone who was or is a student and has wanted to excel should watch this film. It redefines education, motivation and the pursuit of excellence in a manner that may leave some outraged, and will leave some nodding in agreement and sympathetic. That’s the richness of the screenplay and plot development, the tension that is created via the dynamic interplay between teacher and student.

To his credit, Simmons gives dimensions to his portrayal, and when he’s caught playing the keyboards in a club, and trying to explain his method, we’re close to forgiving him and his methods — that’s how good Simmons plays his character.

Teller, tomorrow’s leading man, makes this his breakthrough film, going beyond goofy sidekick or teenage romantic lead. Egotistical and arrogant to a fault later in the film, we actually enjoy when he’s taken down a notch or made to eat humble pie. And yet, given the arc of his character, we readily sympathize with his frustration and admire how he’s so driven and consumed in trying to meet the expectations of his mentor/mean-tor. His personal relationships — with father and possible girlfriend — take a back seat to the twisted relationship he has with his music professor.

Having been an aficionado of jazz, it was exhilarating to hear how this genre of music is used as the backdrop for what transpires dramatically in the film. At its core, the film is a potent examination of mentoring, of motivation and the various ways in which excellence is achieved. It subtly explores that area where talent and ability just aren’t enough, on how that extra push to create greatness can be defined and extrapolated.

Yes, this may be a “small” film, but its impact lingers beyond the final scene, one true measure of how a film has engaged us.











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