Sound of Metal

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Ruben Stone (Riz Ahmed) is a drummer in a metal band. To be specific, he’s one half of the duo Blackgammon with his girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke) — short for Louise –who is the lead singer. The duo are holding onto the dream of hitting the big time. They enjoy a nomadic existence driving from gig to gig in a spacious RV that doubles as their home. Then Ruben swiftly begins to lose his hearing. It essentially happens immediately in one scene. Not complete silence, he can still hear some noise, but it’s severely muffled as if he’s wearing earplugs. Words are indecipherable. A conversation is impossible. Is this a result of his profession? He goes to an ear doctor (Tom Kemp). The physician’s ambiguous explanation is neither decisive nor positive. That frustratingly feels like real life.

It would appear from the plot synopsis that the narrative could easily devolve into a rote disability melodrama — one that cloyingly tugs on your heartstrings. Sound of Metal is not that movie. It’s a raw, realistic account starring a pragmatic young man. We deeply empathize with his predicament. There are two striking reasons for that. The first involves the sound design which puts the audience inside the head of a musician going deaf. The sonic perspective shifts back and forth and the contrast is jarring. We are subjected to his ordeal. The effect is a tangible and affecting experience.

Riz Ahmed’s sober performance in the lead role is the second reason we so relate to his plight. Ruben isn’t a saint. He’s a former drug addict who simply wants to keep pursuing his passion: making music. And like a junkie, he will do anything to be able to keep doing that in life. This all-consuming desire introduces him to several different contacts. At one point, he comes to stay at a place for other deaf recovering addicts. His interactions with a counselor named Joe (Paul Raci) is a fascinating development to the story that was rather unexpected. Joe is a former Vietnam War vet who lost his hearing in the war. Also a former alcoholic, he runs this remote community where people in need can get their bearings. Actor Paul Raci is pretty great too.

Sound of Metal is precisely the kind of human drama I adore. It’s intimate, honest, and ultimately quite moving. I suspect it will inspire many to rethink the way they view the deaf. This emotional saga changed me for the better. Joe’s guidelines are powerful declarations to Ruben. His words once even brought me to tears. The Place Beyond the Pines writer Darius Marder makes an auspicious directorial debut here. He and brother Abraham Marder wrote the screenplay together based on Derek Cianfrance’s unfinished docufiction project “Metalhead.” This is a modest feature, but I am but one of many who have heaped praise upon this work. I love it when a movie completely lives up to all the euphoric buzz. We’re getting to the end of 2020 (finally). I can confidently say this film is among the very best of the year.


4 Responses to “Sound of Metal”

  1. nice recommendation. this was quite good. i first saw Riz Ahmed in Venom and was curious why he was chosen to play the villain. But here he manages to fit the role. And you are right, the scenes with Joe are fascinating discussions.


  2. This was really unexpected. I loved it. Such a nice story. I loved the distorted sound. We got to hear sound the way the character did. Nice touch. 4 stars


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