CAST: Riz Ahmed, Olivia Cooke, Paul Raci, Lauren Ridloff, Mathieu Amalric, Chris Perfetti, Hillary Baack, Tom Kemp, Shaheem Sanchez, Bill Thorpe, Chelsea Lee
RUNNING TIME: 120 mins
BASICALLY…: Heavy-metal drummer Ruben (Ahmed) suddenly finds that he is slowly losing his hearing…
NOW FOR THE REVIEW…
Last year, Riz Ahmed starred in Mogul Mowgli, a film about an up-and-coming musician who suddenly experiences a severe bodily degeneration, leaving him physically vulnerable and desperate for life-changing surgery, but is also given a chance to connect to a community he had become somewhat detached from. Now, he’s headlining Sound of Metal, another film about an up-and-coming musician who suddenly experiences a severe bodily degeneration, leaving him physically vulnerable and desperate for life-changing surgery, but is also given a chance to connect to a community he had become somewhat detached from – only this one is really, really good (not that Mogul Mowgli was bad in any way shape or form, but this one is by far my favourite of this unintentional duology).
Ahmed delivers an exceptional turn in director and co-writer Darius Marder’s film, which sees the actor play Ruben, a heavy-metal drummer who is touring with his bandmate and girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke) across the country. However, all of his exposure to loud noises, in addition to his unwillingness to subsidise any of it for the sake of his musical career, suddenly leaves him unable to hear; he is soon told that his hearing is rapidly deteriorating, and that very soon he will become completely deaf, unless he receives some expensive surgery. Unwilling to put him at any further risk, Lou arranges for Ruben to attend a remote deaf sanctuary for recovering drug addicts – which Ruben himself also is – where, under the guidance of the sanctuary’s head honcho Joe (Paul Raci), he learns to cope with his inability to hear as well as appreciate the unexpected virtues of silence.
It’s hard to know where to begin with a film like Sound of Metal; perhaps with the fact that it’s an incredibly realised screenplay by both Darius Marder and his brother Abraham, which all too easily could have been a very condescending drama focused on the deaf community, but there is zero sense of patronising in the way they show the very real but ultimately humbling lives that they lead. By rounding up a supporting cast of deaf actors including Lauren Ridloff (soon to be seen in Chloé Zhao’s Marvel epic Eternals) and the outstanding Paul Raci who, while not deaf himself, was raised by parents who were hard of hearing, Marder obtains a level of authenticity for his picture which actually lends weight to the main character’s struggle, but also gives viewers a real insight into how intricate and detailed everything is in this community, from the sign language to how they absorb music through vibrations.
Marder’s beautifully understated direction also really lets you get inside the head of its protagonist, allowing you to see and especially hear things from his perspective. Beyond the simple fact that Riz Ahmed is absolutely incredible in this movie, frequently nailing the mannerisms of an internally angry man forced to confront his new audio-less reality, Sound of Metal makes some very brilliant choices in its editing and particularly its sound design to put you in the shoes of a person who’s just lost their hearing. Whenever we’re placed alongside Ruben, everything on the audio track simply fades away, with only the faintest of muffled sounds and incomprehensible speech remaining, much to his anguish and our guilty astonishment. Even when he first arrives at the deaf sanctuary, it’s a while before we are given subtitles as to what his fellow HOH brethren are signing to each other, again putting us right into the mindset of someone who has no idea what is being said or how to tell any of the hand movements apart. All of that is contrasted with various establishing shots where the mundane background noise is intentionally amplified for the audience to exclusively hear, as a means to show the stark difference between our world and the new one that Ruben is inhabiting. With all of that in mind, it’s incredibly clever how Marder has chosen to approach this kind of visual storytelling, and even more so how the people behind the film’s breath-taking sound design have really been able to capture what it must be like to go about life where everything is permanently muted.
There’s barely a negative thing to be said about this movie; pretty much everything, from the filmmaking to the acting all the way to the quietly cathartic final scene – which in and of itself is a masterclass in both performance and intricate sound editing – is pure cinematic gold that deserves a wide-spread audience. It’ll certainly get that now that it’s debuted on Amazon Prime Video here in the UK (despite it already having debuted on the US version late last year), slap-bang in the middle of its impressive haul of six deserved Oscar nominations, while a theatrical run is planned for when cinemas finally re-open on May 17th; however, since this is a film that is highly (and ironically) dependant on strong cinema-grade sound equipment for the full effect, part of me wonders if seeing this in a cinema would have made this an even more sensual experience. You certainly get the desired results even when watching it at home on your TV, but it’s hard not to imagine being forced to experience little to no sound in an auditorium surrounded by sharp, sensitive speakers that greatly amplify the muffled, audibly claustrophobic audio from all angles. All the more reason to anticipate the return of cinemas and all of that immersive equipment, I suppose.
However, you can tell that I really, really loved a movie when the worst thing I can say about it is the fact that I didn’t see this in a cinema (for the first viewing, anyway). Sound of Metal really is a beautiful film that deserves an audience no matter what, because it has such great components from its actors to its highly intelligent filmmaking, but also a real respect and adoration for a community who, despite not being able to hear, make enough noise to liven up everybody’s spirits.
SO, TO SUM UP…
Sound of Metal is a fantastic film which is beautifully directed and co-written by Darius Marder who, along with an absolutely outstanding lead performance by Riz Ahmed as well as some highly intelligent use of sound design, replicates the deaf experience without ever patronising its community or sparing the incredibly raw emotion.