'Whiplash': What the Critics Are Saying

Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons drum up music-minded drama in the film festival favorite from Damien Chazelle

Whiplash, out Friday, follows an aspiring jazz drummer who is berated by his performing arts professor. The Sony Pictures Classics music drama, which began as a short and quickly became a film festival favorite, is loosely based on writer-director Damien Chazelle's high school band experiences and pulls on Miles Teller's rock-band drumming and J.K. Simmons' classical music training, but mostly aims to ask the question of whether the talent worth the torment.

Read what top critics are saying about Whiplash:

The Hollywood Reporter's chief film critic Todd McCarthy writes that the film "is about the wages of all-out sacrifice and commitment; it may not endorse Fletcher’s utter ruthlessness (the man clearly has emotional and psychological issues that are not dealt with here), but nor does it take a soft-headed, blandly feel-good stance; as Fletcher cuttingly remarks at one point, the lamest two words in the English language are, 'good job.'" Though there are some practical question marks about its ending, it "confirms Chazelle as a notable talent." Its "early rehearsal scenes are grippingly portrayed" and "the music track is full of riches."

Watch more Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons Drum Up Hard Hits in New 'Whiplash' Trailer

Of the two leads, "Teller, who greatly impressed in last year’s Sundance entry The Spectacular Now, does so again in a performance that is more often simmering than volatile," and "for his part, Simmons has the great good fortune for a character actor to have here found a co-lead part he can really run with, which is what he excitingly does with a man who is profane, way out of bounds and, like many a good villain, utterly compelling. That said, the character is only taken so far in the writing; from Iago onward, there is often a latent or frustrated sexual impulse behind such malignant behavior, as Fletcher indulges in here, but none such is suggested, nor is any private life indicated at all."

The New York Times' A. O. Scott says the film "could easily have been a sports movie, and structurally, it resembles one," but "for all its dexterity and assurance, the movie has its share of false notes and rhythmic stumbles. The contrast between Fletcher and Andrew’s father, who long ago gave up his dreams of literary glory to become a teacher, is drawn a little too emphatically, as if nice guy and artist were completely antithetical. A few plot twists test the limits of credibility. And there is something a little dispiriting — if sadly unsurprising — about the way Chazelle turns a historically African-American art form into the existential arena for a couple of white guys.

"Still, the battle of master and disciple is exciting and terrifying to witness, and, at its best, the film can feel as wild and spontaneous, as risky and precise, as a live jam session. The music ... is potent and pungent."

Los Angeles Times' Betsy Sharkey calls it "a movie you feel as much as you see, and what you see is both exquisite and excruciating. ... It is one of those scorching films that burns through emotions, uses up actors, wrings out audiences. And the jazz, well, it has its own moments of brutal, breathtaking fusion." Simmons "has never been better" as he "can move from punisher to benefactor, grimace morphing into approving smile in a heartbeat," and Teller "fights his way into the actor he is meant to be," and "treats Whiplash like a proving ground. ... Long weeks of practice paid off with a riveting performance. You believe he felt every sweat-soaked moment, that the bloody hand torn by the sticks, plunging into the ice, was reality, not effects."

Watch more 'Whiplash' Star Miles Teller on Filming Intense Drum Scenes

USA Today's Claudia Puig gives it four out of four stars, noting it as an "exhilarating, inventive and suspenseful story [that] hinges on a pair of commanding performances." Simmons gives "a consummate Oscar-worthy portrayal," and the film altogether "may be the year's most suspenseful film. From start to finish it plays out like the tensest of thrillers. ... The kinetic quality of this enthralling psychological drama is enhanced by evocative close-ups and stunning cinematography."

The Guardian's Henry Barnes notes, "It's rare to see a film about music that professes its love for the music and its characters equally. Whiplash shows a director besotted with the precision of jazz (represented by Fletcher) and the raw ecstasy of a talent unleashed (Andrew). The two sides play together, while Chazelle hammers out a new beat for the genre to move to."

Email: Ashley.Lee@THR.com
Twitter: @cashleelee