Whiplash

15

If the question to appear on the Family Fortunes board was, "Name the greatest drummer of all time", we wouldn't be surprised if the top answer was Animal from The Muppets. Hell, that would've been our collective answer. With maybe Phil Collins popping up in second place.

So with these iconic drumming figures in mind, this film, set in a cutthroat music academy, could have its work cut out for it with a more popular audience. And yet, as the tense drama unfolds, it's clear that it's a title that never misses a beat.

boom reviews Whiplash
This drumming drama hits all the right notes.

Attending the prestigious Shaffer Conservatory is a pretty big deal; after all, it's got a reputation for being the best music school in the US. Andrew (Miles Teller) is a first year, who lives to play the drums. So much so that he has no time for friends; his idea of a good night out is to go see a film with his dad (Paul Reiser).

One night, while practising alone in a classroom, the shadowy figure of Terence Fletcher (J.K Simmons) appears whilst Andrew plays. He informs him that he's looking for a drummer for his celebrated school jazz band and wants to see what Andrew can do. Not needing to be asked twice, Andrew throws himself emotionally into his instrument. But when he notices that Fletcher has actually left the room, he believes he's blown his chance.

Luckily for him, that's not the case. Fletcher puts Andrew in as the new drum alternate, and he suddenly finds himself playing with the big boys now. This new position comes at quite a price however; Fletcher has a unique way of tapping into the talent of his band that has brutal, masochistic overtones, and no one feels it more than new drummer on the block Andrew.

boom reviews Whiplash
So not one of you is interested in seeing the world's tiniest percussionist at work?

Despite the curiously saw-thumb screenplay credit for The Last Exorcism Part II on his CV, director Damien Chazelle is clearly comfortable with the music genre; this is his second musical effort (following on from his own 2013 short Whiplash), with a third, La La Land (again with Miles Teller down to star) already in pre-production. Although the music is great - a vibrant, swelligant jazz soundtrack - it's also his ability to get his cast to shine that hits all the right notes.

Young Teller, whose star rating is about to reach stellar - thanks to his roles in the recent Divergent franchise and starring as bendy Reed Richards in the forthcoming The Fantastic Four film – manages to keep impressively grounded as the keen to impress Andrew.

But it's veteran actor J.K. Simmons (best known for playing J. Jonah Jameson, editor-in-chief of The Daily Bugle in the Spider-Man universe) who gives a truly virtuoso performance as the despicable conductor Fletcher. Simmons, from the outset, decides to dispense with removing layers of his character and just goes straight to the ugly core. His remarkable portrayal of Fletcher is both bold and brutal; it's completely unfiltered and raw, and although the natural reaction is to look away and wince, Simmons continues to draw you in against your own will to witness his vicious and vile personality erupt violently on screen.

It's difficult to tell if Chazelle pulled the reins on Simmons at any point, but whatever he did, it clearly worked. Elsewhere the director also gets the rhythm of his film spot on, as it cleverly builds towards an impressive crescendo.

In truth, a film about a drumming protégé has no right being as good as this. And yet you will be hard pushed to find a more absorbing, powerful and impressive title this year. Music to the ears indeed.

we give this four out of five