Directed by: Darius Marder
Premise: A drummer in a heavy metal band (Riz Ahmed) suddenly loses his hearing. He attends a retreat for the deaf while raising money for an operation that will hopefully restore his hearing.
What Works: At its essence, cinema is the pairing of sound and moving images to create meaning and Sound of Metal demonstrates the possibilities of moviemaking. Long stretches of the picture lack spoken dialogue and yet it is clear what is going on because the action is staged and photographed with care. The filmmakers also use sound quite well, elegantly shifting between objective and subjective audio. We hear the sound of a scene as a hearing, in-person observer might perceive it and then the film switches to the way a deaf character experiences it. The filmmakers do this carefully and with intent. Sound of Metal demonstrates what the newly deaf protagonist is missing and puts us in his head. The filmmaker’s use of sound and imagery is exceptional and they effectively literalize what the protagonist is going through. Sound of Metal is led by Riz Ahmed as Ruben. He’s a drummer whose identity revolves around music. The loss of his hearing sends Ruben into a panic as his entire life begins to implode and Ruben desperately seeks a solution that will restore his hearing and his identity. Ahmed doesn’t play the part for pity but he maintains our interest in Ruben. He remains a sympathetic figure even when Ruben callously lashes out at others because we can empathize with his struggle. As a story about a character with a disability, Sound of Metal confronts the way in which newly disabled individuals and society at large tend to view their conditions: as a problem that needs to be fixed. This story challenges that assumption and it does so effectively through the drama as Ruben learns to accept to his new normal as well as through a notable supporting performance by Paul Raci as the leader of the retreat.
What Doesn’t: Olivia Cooke plays Lou, Ruben’s girlfriend and the other half of their band. Cooke does a good job in the role but Lou is mostly pushed out of the story after Ruben goes to the deaf retreat. The end of the film returns to their relationship but because Lou has been absent from the film she’s not much of a character and the resolution of their storyline isn’t as strong.
DVD extras: Currently available on Amazon.
Bottom Line: The filmmakers of Sound of Metal cut to the very essence of cinema in a powerful story about how our sense of hearing is linked with our identity. This is a smart and moving story that is executed with great craftsmanship.
Episode: #841 (February 28, 2021)