Full Metal Drumming
Whiplash Film Review
Beating its way through a dual character study and psychological drama, Whiplash is a tremendous film which deservedly landed actor J. K. Simmons his first Oscar.Whiplash tells the tale of an aspiring young drummer who will do whatever it takes to become the next drumming legend, and sees his chance under the tutelage of an unfathomably demanding conductor, whose vicious methods ride a fine line between genius and madness. The film plays close to home with a story that comes from writer/director Damien Chazelle’s own experiences in a Studio Band with a vicious instructor. It's further informed by young actor Miles Teller’s real drumming capabilities, and – perhaps most surprisingly – J. K. Simmons’s own professional education at conducting. All of these elements lend further credibility and veritable authenticity to Chazelle’s sophomore effort, which boasts a stunning Oscar-nominated screenplay, and Oscar-winning editing and sound – and one of the best soundtracks of the year so far, all based around some deliriously amazing percussion.With the screenplay languishing on the Black List, Whiplash was first made as a short film starring J.K. Simmons in the same role; a testing ground to get the funding to make it into a full feature. The end result rests firmly on the shoulders of the two capable leads – with Teller playing a surprisingly multi-faceted apprentice who is far from a nice guy and probably much closer to his idol/mentor/nemesis than at first glance. It’s his drumming and his blood on the drums that we see on-screen, and he certainly commits to a demanding part a million miles away from Divergent. It’s J.K. Simmons’s conductor who steals the show, though, with the kind of intensity and power that makes for a career-defining performance, although he too is far from one-dimensional, and you never quite know what’s going on in his psychopathic head. Rightfully earning a multitude of accolades, this is compelling, unmissable viewing.
Blu-ray Picture QualityWhiplash comes to UK Region Free Blu-ray complete with a thoroughly impressive 1080p/AVC-encoded High Definition video presentation framed in the movie’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.40:1 widescreen. Detail is excellent throughout, with fine observation of skin textures – light facial scars and veiny muscles; bloody hands and the shimmer of the big ride cymbal. There is a slightly softer edge to the wider shots, taking in the broader full band playing before an audience, but it lends the image a more cinematic feel, and seldom comes at the expense of serious detail level impingement.
The digitally-shot Whiplash looks largely stunning on Blu-ray.
The colour scheme frequently fluctatates between the two most commonly-favoured filters at the moment for just about every low-to-mid budget production: do you go yellow/orange or do you go green/blue? It’s always a question as to which will win, and whilst the influence from either is quite restrained here, the oranges clearly win, prevalent in the indoor studio sessions, and defining to the skin tones, leaving them all tanned in an environment where – when you step outside into the night – cooler colour tones arise. Daytime shots offer more natural colours and even some primary action, and black levels are strong without allowing for any overt loss of shadow detail. There’s no striking crush or banding, and no particularly distracting digital elements, although the image still falls short of reference perfection, landing squarely in demo territory nonetheless.
Blu-ray Sound QualityAlthough there’s a presumption that the audio on a track about drumming in a studio band will be superb, there’s still some surprise over just what heights it can get to, as the soundstage – and film – builds with every beat and then erupts into a stunning ensemble performance.
Every beat is delivered with precision.
The sound design is precise and astounding at times, so much so that when demands are made to repeat plays until they get the sound right, you can actually tell the difference between the failed attempts and the final success. Sure, there’s clear and coherent dialogue, and a couple of great effects moments beyond the band – including one unexpected bang – but this really is all about the music, and the effects around that too, as the percussion takes over and infects you, and the beats define the piece. This is reference material through and through.
Blu-ray ExtrasThis UK release boasts a strong selection of extras, including an excellent Commentary from Writer/Director Damien Chazelle and Best Supporting Actor-winner J.K. Simmons, who discuss the origins, the casting and the performances, as well as the development of the movie along the way – both of them with personal experiences to input into the piece. There’s also a worthy 45 minute Documentary, Timekeepers, which has some real-life professional drummers discussing their studies and careers, and offers input into the influences and educational impact along the way. There’s a single Deleted Scene which was largely better left on the cutting room floor, despite definitely being worth a watch, although the highlight is likely the 18-minute Whiplash Original Short Film, which was almost a test run for the final feature, done by the same writer/director and also starring J.K. Simmons in the same excellent role. There’s also a brief roundtable Q & A with the writer/director and his lead actors, and the disc is rounded off by some Previews.
Whiplash Blu-ray VerdictPart Full Metal Jacket, part Black Swan, and all drumming, Whiplash is an enthralling look at obsession and abuse, genius and madness, with a tour de force performance from J.K. Simmons, who rightfully earned an Oscar for his performance. Painfully compelling, it follows suit with the likes of Nightcrawler earlier this year, providing hard-to-turn-away viewing.
As you might expect from a movie centred on drumming, the soundtrack is spectacular, matching the impressive picture and superb extras on this Blu-ray.
Fans of the film should consider it an easy call when it comes to picking this baby up. As for newcomers who appreciate quality viewing, it’s an excellent, powerful, performance-driven drama - blind buy it now.
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