Malcolm Gladwell says it takes around 10 000 hours of practice to reach mastery of a craft. But in Damien Chazelle’s exhilarating and at times unnerving second feature film, Whiplash, we see that sometimes all a budding professional needs is a teacher from hell. Enter J.K. Simmons, clad in black and ready to rumble.
Simmons plays Terence Fletcher, a conductor from hell whose presence at the elite Shaffer Conservatory sends chills down the spines of his students as much as his colleagues. He does not suffer fools gladly. He expects only the best, often more, and when he thinks his band is not taking the music, their performance or their skills as seriously as he does, he can quickly start spewing a tirade comprising ever-more-complex concatenations of obscenity-laden expressions — think of the drill sergeant in Full Metal Jacket, and then turn it up to 11.
In the film’s attention-grabbing opening scene, his eye catches the talent of a young jazz drummer, but while he deigns to speak to the boy, it is immediately obvious he is not there for small talk, and when he decides the tempo is not to his liking, he leaves as abruptly as he appeared.
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(Still of J.K. Simmons in Whiplash. Photo by Daniel McFadden – © 2014 – Sony Pictures Classics)