As the end credits rolled I let out an uncontrollable cheer and burst into spontaneous applause.
It wasn’t a film festival premiere, it was a cold Saturday matinee in Edinburgh in early January.
But I had been emotionally unravelled. I’d been through the wringer and had come out the other end a whooping fan boy.
Exhausted, I staggered from the cinema gasping for breath. How on earth could a movie about a Jazz teacher and his drumming protege elicit such a visceral reaction? It’s hard to say why because on the surface (subject aside) there is little that’s fundamentally original about the movie’s structure. But what there is, is two absolutely gut-wrenching and enthralling performances that smash your emotions all over the cinema. Hits to the solar plexus are about the size of it.
The story concerns the relationship between a 19 year old drumming major in his first year at North America’s best music conservatory and his desire to succeed at almost any cost in carving out a springboard and a shop window for a future career as a ‘Lincoln Centre’ core member.
His tutor is, if anything, even more focused than he is, and certainly as unforgiving and intolerant of anything less than perfection as it’s possible to be.
The result is a fascinating emotional power struggle, shot through with manipulation by both protagonists.
Much has been said about JK Simmons’ barbaric performance as the tutor and Jazz Studio conductor who has expectations the height of Everest. But far less credit has been given to the equally powerful turn by his pupil played by Miles Teller. Simmons simply could not have achieved the heights he has without this perfect foil.
The film smoulders from the opening scene and aside from Simmons and Teller pretty much nothing else matters (other than Charlie Parker, Buddy Rich et al whose canon of work is electrifyingly brought to life by the Studio Jazz Band that Teller so wants, no needs, to join).
Much of it consists of boot camp scenarios where imperfections are punished again and again and again. It’s these scenes that create the unbearable tension. But punctuating these are the human side of it – like Teller’s inability to build any relationships at all, other than with his single father. Drumming is always more important. And not just drumming; but drumming fame.
Do not let the subject matter put you off.
Do not let the fact that this is a jazz infused hour and a half, much of it in performance put you off.
This really is a very special movie indeed and fully deserves a straight ten rating.