Continuing my habit of being timely with my reviews, here is one for a movie from 2014! Living abroad makes is really hard to keep up with movies. I didn’t even know this existed until it came out on video here. I started watching it because of J. K. Simmons. It wasn’t until it started that I realized it also stared Miles Teller, who I recently watched in Fantastic Four.
writer: Damien Chazelle
director: Damien Chazelle
released: Oct 10, 2014
I’m torn about this movie. On one hand, it is hard to say enough good things about Simmons. Truly he is one of the greatest actors today, and playing terrifying is certainly in his set of skills. But there are times when he is not on screen and those are the times when the film suffers. All in all the film seems to try and straddle the gap between highly stylized and straightforward. And those two don’t mash up so well and ultimately the film suffers for it.
Spoilers Lurk Below.
Is it possible to say too many good things about J. K. Simmons? His ability to rocket forward with a blaze of hate isn’t that unique. Anyone can just start shouting. But, Simmons manages to create a character whose outbursts feel completely natural. There is no artifice to his anger. Even when it explodes from a slight provocation it feels true. He is the glue that keeps this movie together and working.
Miles Teller is okay. Really. I have no bad things to say about him other than he doesn’t shine. He delivers a solid performance on a part that, at the end of the day, can’t keep up with the adversary. Or, really, the character of Neiman, at the end of the day isn’t that interesting. Is that an actor problem or a script problem? I chose script.
Because who is Neiman? He is a talented drummer who wants to be the best at seemingly all costs. He is possibly socially awkward. Or maybe he is little ostracized. We know he is dedicated to his craft, but what about away from it. We are given slices that show Neiman can be a jerk. But most of those scenes where he is a jerk it is arguably in retaliation to another person’s jerkiness. We know he isn’t the best boyfriend. But since the character of Neiman is never fully established we never really get to know if he has always been kind of a schmuck, or if the brutal treatment by his professor is having an effect on the kid. It is a puzzle that I don’t think we are given enough information to explore, nor was I made to care enough about him to really care.
Then there is the character of Fletcher, the abusive professor in question played by Simmons. Again, Simmons is a master, but what about Fletcher? Does he hold up? I’ll admit I hard a hard time believing that such an abusive teacher would be able to survive, let alone excel, acting such a way. A magnetic as it was, it felt too extreme to exist in an actual world defined by rules. Admittedly, Fletcher was taken done by rules, but it also feels like a convenience rather than an outcropping of the story.
I think this very much is a result of the setting. Or a lest the style of the setting. We have two characters that almost feel more like symbols in the middle of a real world conservatory and there is a clash between those two elements. None of the surrounding characters feel like they exist. And yet they do, even if they are silent mimes to the real action of the story. I kept thinking about how there are so many witnesses to the extreme actions and how there is never any reaction to them. Have they all been numbed? Is it so common place that it doesn’t effect them unless the story needs someone to cry?
Our main characters feel out of sync with the world they inhabit and so they are mostly immune to the realities that would likely happen if they behaved that way in a really world. What would be the reaction if a player showed up on a stage bleeding? I feel there might be more of a question by those organizing the competition.
Or, in final scene with the over indulgent drum solo, my mind kept wandering to what the other onstage players were thinking. I also drifted off and wondered if being such a selfish musician would be looked down upon by the important figures in the audience. I think it was supposed to be a struggle of forces and two personalities vying for dominance. But it didn’t work for me.
Basically, I think the movie lacks any real internal logic and suffers for it. It wants to be stylized and realistic and suffers for it.
This movie is almost worth seeing for J. K. Simmons alone. The rest… well… I’ll admit that spending some time thinking about it makes me want to go back and watch Black Swan. There are similar themes at work, but, if memory serves, Black Swan dives into stylized mental thriller wholeheartedly and works much more as a picture.