(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)
Intense drama finds aspiring jazz drummer Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) in his first year at the Shaffer Conservatory where he strives to be one of the all-time greats like his idol, Buddy Rich. While practicing one night, he catches the ear of renown instructor Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) who is tyrannical and sometimes outright cruel to his students. Invited to join Fletcher’s band, Andrew sees this as the opportunity of a lifetime. Nothing can prepare the young musician, though, for the brutal and humiliating treatment he is about to receive under Fletcher’s tutelage and as Neiman pushes himself to meet the harsh instructor’s demands of perfection, he dangerously straddles the line between hitting the mark and going over the edge.
The whole reason to watch this flick is two dynamic performances from it’s lead actors. Teller, who I’ve never been a big fan of, is excellent as Neiman and J.K. Simmons, who I have always liked, is an absolute powerhouse as Fletcher. These two actors really ignite the screen and have a great chemistry together, especially when they are at odds. Veteran Simmons gives us an explosive tour de force as a man who is a complete dictator one minute and then someone who may truly have his students’ best interests in mind, the next. We see glimpses of a soul and then the monster returns with the blink of an eye. He is remarkable. Teller is a young man with talent and a dream and he gives us a strong performance as an ambitious man with eyes on being the best, who is unprepared for the difficult road ahead in the form of Fletcher. Even Glee’s Melissa Benoist is also very good in a supporting role as Andrew’s love interest. She gives this smaller role some nice heart in her few scenes.
As directed by Damien Chazelle, who also wrote the screenplay based on personal experiences, the film is a high energy, high intensity powder keg waiting to explode…and explode it does. The scenes of Fletcher torturously pushing Neiman crackle with a brutal intensity and you find yourself sweating as much as the characters are. It makes us question the difference between pushing someone to achieve beyond their limits, or just being cruel and abusive. Fletcher claims that he is trying to inspire, yet is he just using that as an excuse to be cruel? This is something we constantly find ourselves questioning and the film gives us reason to believe their may be a heart in Fletcher’s chest, but then also reason to question his sincerity. It keeps us very on edge. While I may not have been totally sold on the events leading up to the powerful finale, it brings this war of wills to an appropriately breathtaking conclusion and one you may not expect.
All is not perfect in Chazelle’s drama as my line above implies… be warned, there are a few SPOILERS here…
First off, it’s hard to believe, in today’s lawsuit happy environment that a teacher as abusive as Fletcher would have gotten this far, especially with the inappropriate language, racist comments and mean-spirited personal things he says to his students…though Chazelle does claim this is based on a real person, I doubt they were this cruel and brutal. While this does come into play here, again, it’s hard to believe he would have gotten this far with no one holding him accountable. Two thirds of the way in, the story takes a turn with such actions and it removes both characters from the school and finds them butting heads again at Jazz festival. It only sets Andrew up to be humiliated by Fletcher, once more, though payback is a bitch and it is a delight to see how it plays out. I also will admit, it’s a little hard to swallow that after all Fletcher put him through, Andrew would be so easily convinced by Fletcher himself, to join his band…again. The events that lead to Andrew leaving Shaffer is also a bit of a contrived act of fate, as is his involvement in Fletcher’s dismissal. Finally, when Andrew is promoted by Fletcher to core drummer, during his time at Shaffer, his change to arrogant douche is way too fast and doesn’t sit right as he appears to be a likable guy with a heart, otherwise. The transformation is a bit too quick.
Overall, even with some questionable story elements, this is an intense drama with a fiery battle between two characters that are superbly acted. Teller and Simmons are amazing to watch and their chemistry in their scenes together is magical. I really enjoyed this flick a lot, even with what I perceived as some story flaws that Fletcher himself may not have tolerated had he been sitting behind Damien Chazelle, while in production. Chazelle though is a good director and while we have yet to see if he can direct as well with a story not so personally close to him, I am eager to find out. A very enjoyable and sometimes brutally intense drama about aspiring to one’s dreams and maybe being pushed too far to achieve them. By the time the credits roll, you may be also be surprised by Chazelle’s answer to some of the questions the story has us asking ourselves.
3 and 1/2 drum kits.