“SOUND OF METAL” is an exploration into not only the reality of those who are deaf of which so much is so poorly represented in film and television, but also what the destructive nature and high cost of denial and self-deception can lead to in the face of the hard truths that come to light. This first feature from Writer-Director Darius Marder – gives an insightful look into a world where sounds can’t be taken for granted and uses the hearing loss of a heavy metal drummer to explore what happens when the life we know is suddenly snatched away.
Riz Ahmed is Ruben, a speed metal/punk drummer for the band Blackgammon, along with his lead singer/girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke) who screams out the punk-style lyrics for the band. We watch as Ruben’s euphoria in the moment of drumming is clearly within himself (all the while noting his many tattoos including the Please Kill Me across his chest) and change dramatically during a performance. Afterwards, we see the happy couple living a nomadic lifestyle in their RV in what seems to be a perfectly simple life of a clean-eating, smoothie drinking band on tour not reflected in their style of music. The first crack in the facade of things is seeing Lou’s scratching from anxiety and you realize something might be up with Ruben as well.
The core conflict of this film is when Ruben learns that he is having hearing issues with it leading into his learning that the hearing condition will not only worsen but could be permanent, as he goes against all advice given to slow down the music career and talks ‘options’. Instead Ruben whom we also find out is a recovering addict, just goes full steam ahead in defiance and frustration in trying to figure out how he will afford cochlear implants to get his hearing back and life will once again be “normal”. Ahmid’s wonderful performance here allows us to feel and experience the moment Ruben realizes he has a problem, and how he begins to process this. His girlfriend however, can see the writing on the wall and wants desperately for him to get better and accept his condition as she is the one who moves to get Ruben into a rehab for the deaf. But this is anything but easy as there is immediate tension between Ruben and Joe (Paul Raci), the head honcho who runs the rehab. Why this immediate tension is put to the forefront is due to the very real split within the deaf community and the feelings surrounding cochlear implants and whether being deaf is something that needs “fixed” or is even a disability. Note: Deaf people have managed just fine for many years without implants and have formed entire communities and relationships that don’t define them as being disabled… hence the problems with what Ruben wants to do versus if it really needs to be done. The quality of the writing and acting here though, really give you thought as to looking at both sides here and that is what gives us all pause as is he right or wrong in what he wants.
Yet, as loud and vibrated ‘Sound of Metal’ really is, there is a sense of tranquility to it with the rest of the film carrying out the process of all the questions we wanted answers to. Did Ruben finally accept that his deafness wasn’t necessarily the life-ending disability he thought it was? Did he feel guilty over the way he left things at the rehab? Does he feel like the surgery might be a mistake? Whether you agree or not what we all can agree on agree is that the use of sound in this film was absolutely fantastic and incredibly artful and you very much feel like you are living in Ruben’s headspace. At many points throughout the movie, we hear things exactly as Ruben does, whether that means hearing nothing at all or just muffled sounds. Again, Riz Ahmed is wonderful in this role and proves his career is only on going up. up and away. Olivia Cooke didn’t give me much with a one expression, one note performance even when outwardly she changed dramatically. Paul Raci is top note as well as the rest of the small supporting cast throughout.
The clarity and intense scenes of silence are some of the most captivating and devastatingly powerful throughout the film. It leaves open the possibility for people to take away from it what they want and the beauty of it all again is seeing both sides of the story as it will definitely make you feel something one way or the other.
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Review screening: Courtesy of Amazon Studios
“SOUND OF METAL” IS NOW AVAILABLE ON AMAZON PRIME