Nickel Review of “Whiplash”

Nickel Review: 5 Categories, 5 Words
Feature Review of “Whiplash”

Cinematography: beguiling
Score & Sound: discrepant
Art & Wardrobe: gilded
Story: perfidious
Acting: excoriating

Nickel Rating: 3/5¢

Cinematography: The camera work here is superbly haunting, fantastically done. From the get go, you know things are off; teetering on the edge and about to collapse. While everything seems so hopeful for our protagonist, it’s beguiling hope, and it connects the audience right away. In this way, the cinematographer expertly injected thriller film vibes into every frame, and it keeps us hooked. With deft use of the gold palette and spotlighting, from lighting alone, we can see the glorious goal our protagonist yearns for.

Score & Sound: For a movie supposedly about jazz music (more on that later), I left this piece unimpressed by the score. After doing some digging, it appears that the composer even had a limited history with jazz before coming on board. In fact, the discrepant audio balance is so strikingly off, I had my thumb pressed to the volume keys of my TV remote far more often that I’d like. There are moments where the sound design excels; the ominous vibe the movie constantly exudes is highlighted by many of the musical choices made here, and a number the instrumental solos are very impressive. You won’t walk out of the theatre/away from your couch humming catchy tunes; this is a dark movie that uses music to set the stage and tell their story.

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Art & Wardrobe: The production design here is clear, working hand-in-hand with the cinematographers to spotlight the primary prop within each room. Most interior scenes make ample use of the gold and brown palette to allow for the focus to appear gilded. Take, for example, the main band practice room. Brown walls, brass instruments, gray or black wardrobe for the side characters, all muddying together so the viewer focuses on the practically-glowing drum set. Then, we have Andrew’s training room. A bleak, dismal setting, centered around his practice drum set. It too is gilded, but in another sense of the word; it represents the protagonist’s dreams, while more honestly serving as thinly veiled torture for him. Andrew’s hands bleed for dramatic effect one too many times.

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Story: Something lost in the film the love for jazz itself. No characters gush over their favorite musicians, discuss favorite tracks from their sets, or display any affection for world of music as a whole. The only example we see is early on, where the protagonist listens to Buddy Rich at Professor Fletcher’s suggestion. This is not a jazz movie, but to the audience will feel more like a competitive sports film. We have Fletcher, the verbally abusive coach with unconventional teaching methods meant to bring out the greatness within Andrew. The plot has a perfidious relationship with music, discarding it in favor of snapping back to its competitive nature so often it gave me whiplash (sorry, I had to). This isn’t to say the story was weak; this is an incredibly well-told story, that simply isn’t about music.

Acting: The writing and acting is also very strong, but is loaded with excoriating and condescending language that many viewers will find off-putting. Fletcher, being the most egregious example, laments over having no student excel to a professional level after his tutelage, all while slinging expletives and actual, physical instruments directly at his pupils. As a result, within the band, there is constant posturing and power tripping, which makes them seem less like a cohesive band, and more like athletes competing for game time. We see this behavior carry over to Andrew, who throughout the film grows more confident in himself, while adopting some of Fletcher’s negative tendencies. It’s an impressive performance from Simmons and Teller, but it makes it hard to actually connect with the characters, since they’re all pricks.

Nickel Rating: 3/5¢: The influence of jazz culture on this film is minimal. This is a psychological thriller sports movie with a coat of musical paint. That being said, it is gripping, gritting, and great at what it is looking to accomplish.

Warm Regards,
Nick Candido