Whiplash (2014)

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Whiplash is an unnerving tale of obsessive ambition to the point of self-harm. In the vein of Black Swan, we see a young hopeful trying to quickly climb a proverbial ladder within an artistic group only to end up in an unhinged and debilitating state. Neiman, played by Miles Teller, is this young hopeful who aspires to be the top in his craft as a drummer. Fletcher, played by J.K. Simmons, is a sadistic advanced conservatory professor who seeks to be the mentor to the next great jazz genius.

Miles Teller has an awkwardness about him that works well in adding tension to his character. He is so vulnerable at the beginning of the film that we can really see the transformation and desperation that overtakes him. In the style of Requiem for a Dream, there are a number of scenes that assimilate Neiman's obsession with drug addiction. J.K. Simmons, who should really be considered the co-lead in the piece, is completely despicable and eccentrically cruel. He plays Fletcher with raw intensity, certainly deserving of all the accolades he has received for this performance. The two characters have a sickly abusive relationship in which Fletcher clearly seeks Neiman as talented yet vulnerable prey and takes advantage of Neiman's ambition possibly to push him into greatness, but certainly to satisfy his own sadistic desires. Yet Simmons has moments of sensitivity, further adding complexity to the character, and keeping the audience captivated and in wonder over his motivations. The brilliance in this film lies in the story retaining simplicity, allowing the two leads to shine while emphasizing an escalating tension as if the film were one musical piece itself with one long crescendo throughout the story. Impeccable, sharp editing is also key in the success of the film.