Vancouver International Film Festival finished with a bang with Whiplash, an excellent character study of a drummer pushed to the brink by his hardliner teacher.

Whiplash

Whiplash poses the eternal question: how much will you sacrifice of yourself to become the greatest? It’s that provocation that fuels the relationship between Andrew (Miles Teller) and Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), who won’t stand for any mediocrity in his showcase competitive band at the Shaffer Musical Conservatory.

There’s blood on the drums and sweat on the cymbals as Andrew trains himself to meet Fletcher’s standards, which includes enduring the slaps, thrown chairs, and salty epithets hurled at him. Simmons relishes the chance to go all-out and terrorize as Fletcher, who justifies the emotional and physical abuse he inflicts on his students by referencing to story of jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker, who did not become Bird without having a cymbal thrown at his head by Jo Jones.

These mind games wreak havoc on Andrew’s soul as he increasingly alienates his girlfriend and family in his pursuit of excellence. Teller is one of my favourite young actors, and he delivers haunting and nuanced intensity as Andrew. The film comes alive through the deft editing of Tom Cross, and cinematography by Sharone Meir, who create a pulsating thriller out of such an ordinary subject with rhythmic editing and rising tension. The film retains that underlying tension throughout and when Andrew and Fletcher meet again for their final battle, it culminates into a frenetically shot finale that leaves the audience gasping.

Lookout for Whiplash in its wider screen release in early 2015.