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Peter Travers: Beat the Drums for a Simmons Oscar, and Add a Cymbal Crash for ‘Whiplash’

Drummer Andrew Neyman (Teller) locks horns with bullying instructor Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) to fulfill his dream

Peter Travers Feb 19, 2015
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Whiplash/Photo by Daniel McFadden

(left) Miles Teller and JK Simmons in ‘Whiplash’. Photo: Daniel McFadden

[easyreview cat1title = Whiplash cat1rating = 3.5 cat1detail = “”]

Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons | Directed by Damien Chazelle

If I tell you that this diabolically entertaining spellbinder is about a student (Miles Teller) trying to master the arcane art of jazz drumming at an elite music conservatory, you might get all bored and pissy and pass on it. That would be stupid. Whiplash is no Dead Drummers Society. Written and directed by the gifted Damien Chazelle (Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench), from his own experience of getting schooled on the sticks, Whiplash is a battle to the death. It’s also a provocation: How much of what makes you human will you sacrifice for a desire to truly excel?

When Andrew Neyman (Teller) locks horns with bullying instructor Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), there’s blood on the walls and Andrew’s psyche. Terence has a Ph.D. in mind-fucking. Hell awaits if you’re not on his tempo. Chazelle, 29, stages these S&M drum duels with strafing mastery. And the two lead actors will blow you away. Teller (The Spectacular Now), a drummer himself, is a young actor of startling power and nuance. And Simmons, who can play evil (HBO’s Oz), gentle (Juno) and all stops between, is a barbed and brilliant marvel in the role of his life. Beat the drums for a Simmons Oscar, and add a cymbal crash for Whiplash. It’s electrifying.

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