By: Dan Tomasik
Without doubt, the most intense movie of the year.
The premise is relatively simple. A young drummer at a prestigious music college catches the eye of the school’s master Jazz conductor. The rest of the film is watching the punishing relationship that unfolds between the two.
Have you ever had one of those teachers that made you feel worthless? Compared to Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), that teacher was Mother friggin’ Theresa. Fletcher is not a subtle person. He does not make small moves. The way he walks into a room, the way he starts a conversation, what time he arrives, what time he tells someone else to arrive, how he teaches, how he reacts; everything he does, he does big and loud. Terence Fletcher is like the living embodiment of a hurricane.
J.K. Simmons is one of those actors everyone knows from something. He’s been in dozens of movies and commercials over the years. Among his appearances are the dad in Juno, J. Jonah Jameson in Sam Raimi’s Spiderman films, the voice of Cave Johnson in the Portal games, the voice of Tenzin in The Legend of Korra, the Yellow M&M in M&M commercials, the guy from the State Farmers commercials…. yes, that guy. He’s spent a career working his warm personality into our hearts. It’s impossible not to like the guy.
Prepare to fear him on a cellular level. Fletcher is the most terrifying person you will ever meet. The word “demanding” will have a whole new meaning after seeing this film. The level of precision and dedication that Fletcher demands from every single one of his students is unparalleled, as is his wrath towards those who fail to meet his impossible expectations. Anything less than perfection will be met with physical, psychological, emotional, verbal, and spiritual abuse. His philosophy is that the most destructive words in the English language are “good job”. He will make you wish you were never born. It’s a performance that brings back memories of Annie Wilkes in Misery and Gunnery Sgt. Hartman in Full Metal Jacket. Like Annie, the most terrifying moments are when he’s acting warm and gentle. Like Hartman, he will push anyone who earns his ire to their breaking point and beyond.
Our aspiring Jazz drummer Andrew (rising upcomer Miles Teller) may be the next great drummer. Or he may die. Make no mistake, he is an extremely talented individual with remarkable dedication. He’s also 19, and if he is the tiniest fraction off-tempo, he will have a f***ing chair thrown at his head for motivation. Side arcs, supporting characters, and love interests are for people that don’t have to play drums for Terence Fletcher. Any distraction from practicing until his hands are raw and bloody could be the difference between life and death. I can’t even begin to imagine the preparation Teller must have had to undergo for this role. It’s clear he’s played drums before, or he simply would not have been capable of the feats he is required to perform for this film. According to his Wikipedia page, he played drums for a church youth group band in high school. He could play drums for anyone after this, I wager.
The most powerful quality of the film is the frightening intensity between its two leads. It may have similarities with other films, but none of them come close to this depiction of artistic perfection. Compared to Whiplash, Drumline was cute. Compared to Whiplash, Black Swan was soft. Compared to Whiplash, Woodstock ‘69 was amateur hour.