In a Conservatory for Music — that’s fancy schmancy talk for a college for music —  a talented, young drummer (played by Miles Teller) will face a verbally abusive teacher (played by J.K. Simmons), resulting in both their lives being forever altered, for better and for worse.   This is “Whiplash.”

Teller has one goal: to be one of the best drummers — if not the best drummer — of all time.  He seeks, wants and needs the attention, tutelage, and acceptance of Simmons, a renowned and feared Jazz musician, teacher and conductor.  Having proven to Simmons that Teller has the raw talent and extreme drive to be the best, Simmons allows Teller to join the school’s Jazz band that Simmons conducts.  All is well at the very beginning, when Simmons seems like a caring teacher; but when Teller’s initial playing isn’t perfect, Simmons’ extremely abrasive nature comes out.   Out the door goes the caring teacher, and in comes a terrifying, drill instructor cursing six ways to Sunday and belittling any student that doesn’t perform perfectly.

Rattled — to say the least (hell, I was rattled just watching it!) — by his first session with Simmons, Teller practices harder, sacrificing almost everything to achieve the level of perfection his teacher demands of him.  Scenes of Teller’s hands bleeding from his drumming practices made me cringe.   But what really made me cringe was the scene in Act 3 when Teller was to perform professionally with Simmons’ band, and the audience had many Jazz enthusiasts who will remember how well, or badly, each musician played.   Simmons calmly walks toward Teller and quietly tells him something.  What happens after is movie-making genius.  This is my most memorable, movie moment of “Whiplash.”

First runner-up for my memorable moments of this movie is the scene when Teller rushes to the stage during a Jazz band competition and starts playing drums…despite not being in the best of health.  I won’t reveal the reason why.

Coming in 3rd place for my memorable, movie moment of “Whiplash” is the montage of Simmons forcing his three drummers to play, one right after the other, until one of the drummers gets it right.  After many hours of intense drumming, the drum kit is covered in sweat and blood; and Teller finally plays perfectly.  The three drummers are exhausted to the point of passing out, and Simmons calls back the rest of the band so they can now begin their practice session!

“Whiplash” — the title comes from the title of a piece of Jazz music — is a great movie about the obsession of being the best, and bringing the best out of people; and what it takes to do that: the hard work, the sacrifices, and the relentless push that goes beyond abuse.  For those who think that this movie is some boring drama about some kid learning to play the drums in school…”Whiplash” is much, much more than that.  It is a gripping, highly tense story that will demand your attention and focus.

— M