Jazz drummer Andrew (Teller) has tremendous potential and ability.
Painfully shy, he lets his drums to the talking. What he craves is that
elusive nod of approval from his brutal jazz instructor, Fletcher
(Simmons). Easier said than done, as Andrew realizes that Fletcher is a
sadistic nightmare of a teacher.
explodes on screen like a well-timed artillery barrage. We're
introduced to the two characters in this movie that really matter in the
opening scene itself. Illuminated by an overhead light, Andrew is seen
practicing in an otherwise dark room at the fictional Shaffer
Conservatory of Music. He picks up the tempo on the snare, gradually
accelerating to a machine-gun frenzy until Fletcher walks in and Andrew
abruptly halts. Their tenuous student-teacher equation begins here.
A devoted Buddy Rich fan with stellar ambitions, Andrew is relentless
like no drummer Fletcher has ever taught and the bullet-headed Fletcher
is distinctly evocative of Full Metal Jacket's foul-mouthed, bullying
and merciless drill instructor, Sergeant Hartman. Fletcher eschews jazz
improvisation for impossibly strict cadences and tempos. And when he
asks the band to meet for practice at 9 am, he will enter the room at
that very second. Andrew is no slouch in the determination department -
he dumps his sweet girlfriend (Benoist) to focus on playing and play he
does, till his hands bleed.
is used by Fletcher with an obsession bordering on derangement; he
makes Andrew repeat a five-second, random phrase from the piece, each
time expecting him to get the right tempo. It's never enough, but
Fletcher quotes a Charlie "Bird" Parker anecdote as justification for
pushing his students beyond the edge.
Some might feel that the
depiction of jazz here is too harsh. But then again, Fletcher's approach
is about mastering the underpinning forms and structures before a
player explores improvisational methods. The taut editing (Tom Cross) is
outstanding and Simmons outdoes himself. When the thumping tom-toms,
trombones and tympani fall silent, what you are also left with is a
career-topping performance (thus far, at least!) from Miles Teller.