We take our hearing for granted – until we can’t. Sound of Metal charts a deeply personal journey for a young man who’s going deaf.
Heavily tattooed drummer Ruben (Riz Ahmed) has had a troubled past. Although four years clean, he previously took all manner of drugs, although his poison of choice was heroin. Then he met singer Lou (Olivia Cooke) – who we later learn also didn’t have it easy and has been prone to self-harm. The pair is on tour as a heavy metal duo, moving from town to town in a large motorhome, playing to appreciative head-bangers. They are very much in love and privately they like dancing to much more mellow music.
Increasingly, Ruben is having trouble hearing sounds, which are all muted and distorted. He reaches crisis point. Panicked, scared and upset, he sees a doctor, who delivers the bad news. Ruben intends to get himself “fixed” and going on with the tour … as well as working on an album. Only best-case scenario is spending tens of thousands of dollars on implants, which may allow him to retain the little hearing he has left. After a fit of destructive anger, Ruben checks into a deaf facility led by a no-nonsense believer in Joe (Paul Raci).
He’s a Vietnam vet and former alcoholic, whose self-help program requires detachment from the outside world. That also means cutting ties with Lou. Although deeply troubled, extracting a promise from Lou that she will wait for him, Ruben commits to a stint as part of an interactive deaf community.
Sound of Metal is a portrayal of life irrevocably changed. A searing performance from Riz Ahmed headlines the accomplished piece.He, and the film as a whole, convey a strong feeling of authenticity. We see the psychological toll through Ahmed’s mesmeric depiction of Ruben. As Lou, Olivia Cooke prevails with her “natural” showing, while Paul Raci is straight as a die as Joe.
But Sound of Metal wouldn’t be the film it is without the attentive detail to capturing muffled and distorted and high-pitched sounds that is the work of supervising sound editor Nicolas Becker and his team. What an extraordinary job they’ve done. They open a window into the terrifying world of someone suddenly thrust into an incomprehensible environment. How to cope with the new normal and move on becomes the core of Sound of Metal.
Co-writer and director Darius Marder (who wrote the piece with his brother, Abraham, from a story by Darius and Derek Cianfrance) has crafted a special film.
Sound of Metal is available on Amazon Prime
Other reviews you might enjoy:
Alex First is a Melbourne based journalist and communications specialist. He contributes to The Blurb on film and theatre.