Sound of Metal is a powerful piece of filmmaking, thriving on actor Riz Ahmed's eyes and body language. Raw and passionate; director Darius Marder's picture is an emotional experience around the loss of sound.
Featuring one of the best and most innovative sound designs in recent memory, Sound of Metal stands tall as one of the very best films to come out in 2020. Actor Riz Ahmed (Nightcrawler and The Night Of) gives an Oscar-worthy performance as we see someone struggling with a life-changing event. Ahmed captures the emotional depth of someone grappling with the loss of sound. Darius Marder (screenwriter for The Place Beyond the Pines) does not pull on any heartstrings or make the film feel melodramatic — instead — he focuses on the nature of loss and the road to rediscovering oneself. Sound of Metal is a movie that flourishes through silence. We, as the audience, are tossed into Ahmed's new world, often given long takes of silence with Ahmed's body language unraveling fear and rage right on the screen. The film follows a heavy metal drummer named Ruben (Ahmed) and his singer-girlfriend Lou (a strong Olivia Cooke). The two are currently on tour around the country, traveling in their makeshift RV — where they eat, sleep, and store all of their band equipment. One morning, Ruben awakes and goes through his normal morning routine, yet he is struggling to hear anything.
Marder tries to put us into Ruben's head as we experience this new fear of silence and loss. Ruben goes to see a doctor and is told that he has already lost 80-90% of his hearing. The doctor also instructs him that the rest of his hearing will likely follow. Ruben tries to conflate these realities by telling himself that he can play through it, he can get surgery, and that everything will be okay in the end. Lou knows that this is not the case because Ruben is also a recovering addict and has been sober for 4-years. She knows that trauma can send someone, who is recovering, back into relapse. Lou calls his narcotics anonymous sponsor, Hector, who finds a place for deaf recovering addicts for Ruben to go. Sound of Metal puts us into Ruben's shoes; we see an experienced drummer who's ability to hear is being ripped away from him. All of these fears and anxieties begin to weigh on Ruben and a path towards darkness opens up. However, Lou steps in to help Ruben move away from that darkness, towards a better path of healing and recovery. They go to a rural deaf community run by a man named Joe (an excellent Paul Raci), a recovering alcoholic who lost his hearing in the Vietnam War.
Here is where the majority of our film takes place. Joe tells Ruben that this is not a place to fix him; it is a place where one learns to live with their deafness. There is no correction because Joe advises Ruben that he is not broken. Raci's quiet and tender performance should not go without notice. Ruben needs to learn how to accept this new part of himself and how to move forward with his deafness. Here, we see Ruben interacting with the community — he observes and watches deaf children learning in a classroom. As he becomes more comfortable with himself, he begins to interact more with the children. Joe gives Ruben a task to distract himself from his fears of the world. Ruben is instructed to sit in an empty room, only to write down his thoughts and feelings. Ahmed's extraordinary performance is raw and cunning, as we see him slowly overcome his demons, letting calmness take place. Much of the film revolves around calm and how we find peace with it.
The final breakthrough for this film is the exceptional sound design. I recommend watching this movie with headphones (like I did) if you can. Marder puts us right into Ruben's point-of-view, as we hear what he's hearing — muffled sounds, indecipherable conversations, and then silence. Marder does not layer any music or score during these moments of silence. Instead, Marder engulfs the viewer with silence, letting them reevaluate their own struggles or anxieties in the world. On top of all of this, Ahmed spent six-months before film production to learn how to play the drums. He also studied deafness and learned ASL (American Sign Language) for the film, striking the emotional core of his performance. Sound of Metal is one of the very best films of 2020 and earns a five-star review from me. A beautiful tale of healing and moving forward, Sound of Metal's poignant beat will strike you to your core.
Sound of Metal is rated R (Restricted) Language Throughout | Brief Nude Images.
Directed by Darius Marder
Starring Riz Ahmed, Olivia Cooke, Paul Raci, Lauren Ridloff, and Mathieu Amalric.
Available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.
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