A gifted but socially awkward student in a respected music conservatory is chosen to play in their lauded jazz band, but suffers indignity and abuse at the hands of his perfectionist of a teacher.
The premise of Whiplash sounds like one of those cliched boot camp style movies in which grudging recruits come to admire their gruff sergeant despite his harsh methods as they learn that he is merely attempting the bring out the best in them. There is a certain element of this, although the character dynamic of Neimann and Fletcher is rather more complex; it’s essentially about the fine line between a mentor being inspirational to encourage his charge and emotional abuse. Miles Teller puts in a fine performance as the isolated, obsessive student desperately trying to achieve the greatness both he and his teacher crave, but of course it is J. K. Simmons’ portrayal of the amusingly obnoxious taskmaster whose own obsession causes him to cross the aforementioned line that is the scene stealer. The well written, character-driven plot essentially boils down to a battle of wills between the two that throws some nice curve balls that prevent the film from degenerating into cliche and the story ends in the perfect way.
It would probably help to be a fan of the music, but Whiplash still has more than enough good qualities to recommend it to the casual viewer.