Movie of the Week: ‘Whiplash’

“Whiplash” (2014) – J.K. Simmons has 217 acting credits, according to IMDb, which is a remarkable feat, since this 67-year-old started his movie career 28 years ago in “The Ref” (1994).  That’s almost 8 projects per year.  The man might be best known as J. Jonah Jameson, a Spider-Man nemesis, but J.K.’s crowning achievement is his work as Terence Fletcher, a tireless maniac of a jazz band instructor at NYC’s Shaffer Conservatory, the leading music college in the country. 

Simmons won the 2015 Best Supporting Actor Oscar, and although you could make an argument for Ethan Hawke in “Boyhood” (2014) or Edward Norton in “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” (2014), it would be the wrong case.  There was only one choice for that particular Academy Award that year, and if Simmons lost, Dolby Theatre attendees would’ve stood up, ripped chairs from their foundations, and thrown them at the stage.

Well, that’s what Fletcher would’ve done.

Andrew (Miles Teller)

Anyways, J.K. won, and if you haven’t seen “Whiplash”, Fletcher runs the Shaffer Studio Band like a United States Marine Drill Sergeant, but one fueled by an ever-present steroid rage and a core belief that every student just cut him off in traffic.  The man is Godzilla with no interest in King Kong, Mothra, or Rodan, but takes pure unadulterated glee at tearing down skyscrapers and stomping on people.

He’s a callous, cold-blooded bully that makes Biff from “Back to the Future” (1985) look like Napoleon Dynamite or Dick (Todd Louiso) from “High Fidelity” (2000). 

He’s that merciless.

While Fletcher is Ming the Merciless, Andrew (Miles Tiler) is a Flash Gordon in training.  Andrew is an unassuming but talented wide-eyed, 19-year-old drummer looking become his hero.  Not Flash, but Buddy Rich.

Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons)

“Whiplash” is a contemporary, visceral clash between a colossal Irresistible Force and an Immovable Object versus a fledging young adult attempting to resist and also dodge maltreatment.    

If you have seen “Whiplash”, but not in years, give it another go.  At least for this critic, J.K.’s iconic performance is more fearsome than memory served, and afterwards, you might be constantly looking up – via cinematic PTSD – to avoid a 1,000-ton lizard’s foot looking for its next victim. 

⭐⭐⭐⭐ out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Directed and written by: Damien Chazelle

Starring: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Paul Reiser, and Melissa Benoist

Image credits: Sony Pictures Classics

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