I love movies.
I love music.
Reviews, however, are not something I typically care for. Sure, there are some sources I trust with feedback but I would much rather engage and find out for myself.
With that in mind, I went into Sound of Metal completely blind.
Man, was I ever surprised—and pleasantly so.
Sound of Metal
The film opens with Ruben (Riz Ahmed)—our protagonist—on stage behind his drum kit. The care that went into the film’s sound design becomes immediately apparent as Ruben waits for his cue to begin.
We then move to the RV that serves as the home on the road for both Ruben and his significant other/bandmate, Lou (Olivia Cooke). An early bird, Ruben prepares breakfast and the pair make their way to the next stop on their tour.
While hanging out before the show, a severe ringing fills Ruben’s ears. While he’s able to get through the show, it becomes clear that something is wrong.
Well-crafted without wallowing
Riz Ahmed gives an outstanding performance as Ruben, realistically portraying a man who—4 years after kicking a narcotics addiction—is faced with a situation that threatens to completely derail his aspirations in life.
To prepare for the role, Ahmed spent upwards of 7 months working with an instructor to learn how to play the drums. He also learned American Sign Language and took steps to simulated hearing loss in order to properly convey how his character would deal with it.
In fact, Sound of Metal goes to great lengths to portray the deaf community in a realistic manner. When Ruben finds himself in a small colony populated solely by deaf citizens, they are shown as exactly what they are: humans living their lives.
This stance is summed up aptly by Joe (Paul Raci), the leader of the community:
“Everybody here shares the belief that being deaf is not a handicap; not something to fix.”-Joe, Sound of Metal
While Ruben struggles to accept the change he’s facing, the script never allows him to indulge in self-pity. He knows what he wants to accomplish and never lets go of reaching his goal.
He slowly begins to acclimate to life in the community, engaging more and having fewer outbursts. We see, however, that Ruben still has his sights set on surgery. To accomplish this, he sells off his belongings, including the RV.
The Next Hurdle
With the money in hand, Ruben sets off for the surgery intended to restore his hearing. He does this without telling anyone and, upon returning to the community, opens up to Joe.
This is an amazing scene and Raci does an outstanding job in conveying disappointment in Ruben’s decision. This disappointment isn’t due to Ruben trying to regain his hearing but due to Joe not believing this will make Ruben happy. While he wishes him well, Joe tells him that he can no longer remain in the community.
Ruben goes to a follow-up appointment to check the status of the implants and to fine-tune the audio that he will hear. Initially, he is emotional at the restored hearing. That quickly fades into disappointment as he realizes the tinny and imperfect quality of the sound is what his hearing will be like from now on.
He reunites with Lou and it’s evident that their love hasn’t faded. All is not well though as the uncertainty of their future hangs heavy over their heads. With the plans he’s worked towards coming unraveled, Ruben walks to a busy park where he’s overwhelmed by the commotion around him. In an effort to gain peace, he turns off the implants and sits in silence.
Why You Should Watch
While the entire cast does an excellent job, this film is unquestionably carried by Riz Ahmed. His devotion to the role aside, Ahmed delivers a performance that grabs your attention immediately. More than that, it clutches it tight and brings you along through Ruben’s journey.
His performance is unique and genuine: no line feels forced, no reaction strained. He slides into his role naturally, inhabiting Ruben from beginning to end.
Director Darius Marder—who also penned the screenplay—does an outstanding job of presenting what is, on its surface, a simple story in an organic and engrossing manner. The film would suffer if the world around Ruben were any less genuine than the character and Marder ensures that doesn’t happen.
I also have to give a huge shout to supervising sound editor Nicolas Becker and his entire team. The sound design in this film is top notch, so much that it becomes its own character. The audience is pulled into Ruben’s world and how he experiences it, and the sound design really pushes that to the fore.
I will say, for as petty as it is, that the title initially dampened my expectations. That’s not to say that it’s a weak title by any stretch, just that it doesn’t fully encompass what this film holds. It’s a well-written, expertly-acted character driven drama. It doesn’t sugarcoat; it doesn’t pander.
What it does is tell a great story and it does a hell of a job in doing so.