Wow. I love when I see a movie that both exhausts and exhilarates me at the same time. I wish I had seen this a couple weeks ago, because I know what one of my new top 10 movies of last year is.
Andrew (Miles Teller) is a drummer in the best music school in the country. Terrence Fletcher (JK Simmons) is the foul-mouthed taskmaster of a teacher. I would say the movie is about the relationship that develops between the two of them, but that would be inaccurate. It's about the battle of wills between two alpha males - one of whom wants to be the best there is at what he does (much like Wolverine), and one who's looking for perfection, even if he has to beat it into the other one (literally and figuratively).
When we first meet Andrew, he's practicing on the drums. In fact, throughout the movie, he practices all the time, sacrificing any sort of social life. And the reason he practices all the time, we're led to believe, is to impress Fletcher. When we first meet Fletcher, he's standing in the doorway watching Andrew practice. He's obviously the top dog at the school and any one of the students would give up their right arm to be in his class. But, immediately, he comes off as a jerk.
But I don't think the movie is about Andrew trying to make Fletcher a surrogate father figure that he's trying to impress. He already has a wonderful father (nicely played by Paul Reiser), and he's the complete opposite of Fletcher. No, I think the movie is about endurance, talent, and genius. Fletcher uses a story about Charlie Parker getting a cymbal thrown at his head, as the turning point in his career. Fletcher uses that same action (pretty literally) to evoke that same turn in his students. There's absolutely no doubt that it's abuse. He does things that will make you gasp in shock. You know what he's going for, and he explains it even better towards the end. But the results vary dramatically from person to person. Andrew takes the abuse, and it drives him to become the best he can be. But even he has his limits, and getting pushed past them wreaks some havok.
There is nobody who is better at hurling insults than JK Simmons. He does it with such venom and panache, that not giving him an Academy Award nomination for his role in this seems like it would be a great disservice. And Miles Teller matches him beat for beat. When he practices so strenuously that his hands almost become a river of blood, you believe that no makeup was necessary. You're rooting for this kid to reach the apex of his potential, thereby "beating" Fletcher. In fact, there's a scene where I felt like shouting, "Beat him!"
The finale is an impressive feat of writing. With very few words, and lots of music, you're meant to have your emotions flung around. And you do. And watching two people who may hate each other, or may respect each other, face off in a battle of talent and wills creates one of the most exhilarating endings I've seen in quite some time.