London Film Festival: Damien Chazelle's second film is a story of musical mentorship that plays like a high octane thriller
Captured with a riveting and rhythmic intensity which mirrors its protagonist's ferocious focus and surging drive, Whiplash is an audaciously edited, voraciously performed story of blood, sweat and beats which makes you feel every pummel and thrash. It's set in the dark womb of the fictional Shaffer Conservatory, an elite musical academy whose soundproofing ensures that no-one can hear you scream.
Damien Chazelle's second feature as writer-director, after the little-seen Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, is an increasingly nasty story of maverick mentorship. His screenplay for the recent Grand Piano showed a knack for high concept, high octane musical thrills and Whiplash isn't a million miles away, with Chazelle once again assuming a tight focus and drawing tension from pressurised playing as aspiring drummer Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller) attempts to prove himself to psychotically particular conductor Terence Fletcher (JK Simmons), whose jazz band he's invited to join.
Like his character – a young man of unique, obsessive determination who plays until he bleeds and runs from a car-wreck to take his place behind the drum-kit – Teller rises to the occasion. He thrives under the unwavering glare of the mighty Simmons who's not had a cinematic role to match his towering televisual achievement as neo-Nazi Vern Schillinger in HBO's Oz, until now. Simmons has a voice of booming authority that forces you to sit up straight and his vigour as a performer is harnessed to formidable effect as Fletcher terrorises his students and the audience alike.
Expanded from Chazelle's 2013 short – which like this feature-length version caused a sensation at Sundance – Whiplash is everything its snappy title suggests, and comes complete with a thunderous ending that leaves the entire film reverberating in your consciousness.
Screened on Wed 15, Thu 16 and Sat 18 Oct as part of the London Film Festival 2014. General release from Fri 16 Jan 2015.