Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) is an aspiring drummer enrolled at the prestigious Schaffer Academy. While there he is recruited by Terrence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), an acclaimed conductor who leads the school’s most prominent orchestra. Fletcher’s technique to inspire the orchestra is aggressive and involves belittling, slurring, manipulating, and often physically abusing and threating. This drives Neiman to push harder, practicing until his hands bleed and sacrificing everything, including a promising new relationship and his safety, to become one of the greats like his idol Buddy Rich. Fletcher’s techniques get results, but at what cost, and are all people going to respond the same way?
Simmons is phenomenal in the role, teetering between being entirely abhorrent and sadistically charming while ejecting hysterical insults. Although ultimately providing a happy and unsettlingly inspiring ending, this is not your usual feel good, bravely overcome adversity musical-prodigy Oscar bait. The film is stripped to its core, with little other than the scenes of Neiman’s furious practicing and the confrontations with Fletcher. It is a rivalry entirely brutal in its execution, where the lines between stern encouragement and abuse become blurred and there are no easy solutions. In Neiman Fletcher not only meets his much searched for Charlie Parker, but his equal, who is willing to fight him to the end.
Whiplash is an uncompromising treatment of troubling interactions in an unflinching environment.