This movie was on fire. Both Miles Teller and JK Simmons are AMAZING but even the director (Damien Chazelle) was an unseen stand-out, somehow crafting a movie about drumming into an intensely psychotic thriller. The editing is almost violent,infusing the movie and the music with a crazy amount of energy.
Miles Teller plays a kid at an exceptional music conservatory who gets taken under the wing of a teacher (JK Simmons) so exacting that he moulds his students into better musicians, or else. And you’d better believe that threat is real. The kids in his class certainly do. Blood, sweat, and tears are all part of the visceral experience of this film.
I watched this movie wracked with tension, the kind usually reserved for a movie where the villain wields a knife, not a conductor’s baton. JK Simmons is absolutely brilliant, stunning and revolting. Each time he pulls back his hand to halt the band, it’s like he has a super power that sucks the energy out of the room. He’s like a general in front of his army. He’s erect, he’s controlling, he is bubbling rage personified.
But for me, the most fascinating thing about this movie is the way it presents such a cracked view of an abusive relationship. This man is sadistic. He doesn’t throw chairs at people’s heads just to make them play better (although he seems to believe in this motivation), he also does it because he likes. He has power, and he abuses it, and he enjoys abusing it. That’s sick, but it’s also not unusual. What’s really wrenching is that it’s not just Teller buying into it, he’s just one of three guys who are ready to be absolutely destroyed by this man, competing for his abuse, killing themselves to please an unpleasable man. They keep going back for more and it’s just so fucking despicable. And I ate it all up.