[This is a re-post of my review from the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. Whiplash opens today in limited release.]
We know “greatness” demands sacrifice. It’s blood, sweat, and tears, and if you’re not willing to dish out all three constantly and consistently, then hey, you’re not worthy of your dream. Physical greatness–the greatness of athletes, for example–is easily quantifiable. But when that physicality is blended with musical expression, it becomes something more vague, complex, and fascinating. Writer-director Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash provides an intense and disturbing exploration of the primal drive to dominate and achieve greatness but at a horrific cost. Anchored by extraordinary performances from lead actors Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons, Chazelle’s film never loses its brooding, unnerving energy even as it stumbles trying to find a fitting crescendo.