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Black screen. The drum beat starts, so slowly that you aren’t even sure you’re hearing a beat. The tempo builds as the beat gets stronger, faster, louder, with earnest. As it reaches a climax, the tempo cuts to a young man, resetting his drum kit to start the beat again. As the camera tracks down the corridor, we become aware that the camera is the perspective of a person. This person is none other than the young man’s teaching hero.
The start, stop of the tempo at the will of the approaching teacher becomes the pace of the film. It creates the tempo of the central relationship between the student and his teacher. You’re fearful that this tempo will simply collapse on itself. Surely no one can keep that rhythm, that pace and that discipline to not stray from the beat. You can fall on either side of the argument with the relationship between band teacher Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) and student Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller). It can read as a teacher pushing his student to be the best drummer that he could ever be. Or you can read it as a teacher who cannot see the line between encouragement and physical and emotional abuse.
Either way, this relationship is glorious to watch; just like jazz, it’s unpredictable. It has the build-up and the crescendos, the composed pieces and the improvisations. Throughout, the film is held together by the building of tension that gets released, only to become even more intense. You can’t trust your own instincts on where the film is going—you don’t have the sheet music in front of you. You have to let the music take you on a journey you may not want to be on.
I didn’t know what to expect when walking into the cinema, but walking out I can certainly say that I have never had to control myself more to keep myself in my seat. The drum beat throughout this film flows through your muscles. This film is so rewarding to watch, the performances from both the acting and music stopped me from noticing many of the films’ flaws (plot and diversity wise). It is a joy to watch a film that places so much care in showcasing the true passion of music and how it can represent—no matter cruelly—the dedication of a teacher striving for greatness in their student.