Damien Chazelle’s “Whiplash” a Showcase for Amazing Performances

imageI suppose Mr. Holland would never forge his opus or dead poets their society without a little creative inspiration. Writer/director Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash (B+) supposes that great art comes from a relentless push from both oneself and some other outside force. The film starts with an aggressive, percussive beat in a lonely hall and ends with nearly the same in a concert hall, but the film’s young jazz drummer protagonist, brilliantly played by Miles Teller, is not the same man from beat to beat. Under the tutelage of a maniacal perfectionist with the draconian stylings of an unhinged drill sergeant – the performance of a lifetime by J.K. Simmons – Teller’s promising artist learns to hone his craft through a ridiculously escalating series of Herculean obstacles. Chazelle and his powerhouse lead actors never let up in this powder-keg of obsession, filled with unexpected grace notes. The authenticity of the film’s merciless NYC music school and the close-ups of blood, sweat and tears required to make great jazz add to the film’s somber and occasionally off-kilter tone. While there are character details that get somewhat short shrift, the movie is largely an absorbing riff and an often riveting tight-wire act. Mostly, it’s a stunning showcase for fine acting.