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dir-scr Damien Chazelle
prd Jason Blum, Helen Estabrook, David Lancaster, Michel Litvak
with Miles Teller, JK Simmons, Paul Reiser, Melissa Benoist, Austin Stowell, Nate Lang, Chris Mulkey, Damon Gupton, Max Kasch, Suanne Spoke, Charlie Ian, Jayson Blair
release US 10.Oct.14, UK 16.Jan.15
Play like you mean it: Teller and Simmons
SUNDANCE FILM FEST
CANNES FILM FEST
TORONTO FILM FEST
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E|
With a literally breathtaking pace and outrageously high energy, this film grabs you by the lapels and shakes you until you're a blubbering wreck. This is about as black as comedies can get, hurtling through the story of a talented young man coming up against a seriously fearsome teacher. And it's so powerful that it takes awhile to recover after the credits roll.
Andrew (Teller) is an aspiring drummer attending New York's most cutthroat music conservatory, desperate to get into the elite jazz band even though Professor Fletcher (Simmons) has a horrifically tough reputation. So when Fletcher invites him to join, Andrew's life becomes both a dream and a nightmare. Perhaps Fletcher's psychologically and physically torturous methods part of paying his dues. And maybe Andrew won't be able to maintain a relationship with his tentative new girlfriend Nicole (Benoist). Hopefully the pain will be worth it.
Expanding his own short, writer-director Chazelle creates a film that takes off so quickly that it sometimes feels difficult to hang on. The intensity is thrilling, as Simmons shouts and Teller sweats through every scene. Cleverly, Simmons never quite makes it clear whether Fletcher wants to crush the newbie and prove his worthlessness or challenge him to raise his game. Or maybe he's just a psychopath. And Teller gives Andrew such a tenacious attitude, pleased with every victory and yet willing to push himself further than what seems humanly possible.
The plot takes a couple of contrived turns along the way that stretch credibility, mainly in a climactic sequence in which Andrew struggles against contrived odds to make it to a vital performance. But for much of the film, the rhythms of high-energy jazz keep the plot's pace surging forward, only briefly pausing for breath before plunging into yet another insanely consuming set-piece.
And all of this technical and artistic filmmaking virtuosity has a point, highlighting the discipline a person needs to make it to the top of whatever field they choose. Although the path is easier for some than others, greatness isn't handed to anyone on a plate. Andrew will have to pound the drums until his hands bleed. And then some. And even then Fletcher will demand more of him. This is the kind of astoundingly entertaining film that's provocative, funny and terrifying in equal measure. It's also a rare movie that will make you sweat too.
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© 2014 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall|
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