By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
Opening in some theaters on November 20, 2020 and available for streaming on Prime Video on December 4, 2020, Sound of Metal presents actor Riz Ahmed as we’ve never seen him before. But enough with the cliches, this powerful and emotional film features one of the top performances by a male actor this year. Ahmed takes the lead as heavy metal drummer Ruben Stone, a passionate musician whose life and career gets shockingly upended by hearing loss. It is a movie that delivers a well written character study, but also presents a positive and empowering story about people who live and thrive without hearing.
The movie begins with Ruben and his girlfriend/bandmate Lou (Olivia Cooke) traveling in a bus from town to town performing concerts. The two make up the metal duo Blackgammon, with Lou growling lead vocals and playing guitar while Ruben backs her up on the drums. After one particular show, Ruben starts hearing a high pitched ringing in his ears that quickly devolves to actual hearing loss. Panicked and desperate to regain his hearing, Ruben seeks medical attention.
Sadly, however, the doctor informs him that he will eventually lose all ability to hear. As both Ruben and Lou struggle to cope with this new development, this shocking turn of events puts a strain on their relationship, along with Ruben’s state of mind. A recovering addict, Ruben checks into a deaf community that helps hearing impaired people live their lives productively, but with a special section for people coping with addiction. Though Ruben learns how to cope with his condition, the fact that he denies its permanence affects his ability to face reality.
Written and directed by Darius Marder, who co-wrote with Derek Cianfrance, Sound of Metal delves into the real problems of loss and addiction without ever getting too involved in the specific details. We, the audience, come to realize that Ruben has his emotional and psychological problems, but never get to know the hows or whys. I don’t necessarily consider that a flaw, or a strength, for that matter. However, Marder and Cianfrance remain focused on the situation at hand and how the main character attempts to face it head-on.
Without ever getting to know everything about Ruben, the audience learns plenty through his emotions and actions. The combination of the writing, direction and the performance by Riz Ahmed shapes Ruben into an empathetic character that we the audience wants to win. However, not only does Ruben learn something through his journey, but the audience also stands to gain from what he learns. Anyone who is hearing impaired, has a family member or lives with someone who is deaf, already is familiar with this type of life experience and can certainly appreciate the messages this movie delivers.
Riz Ahmed gives an awards worthy turn as a man who feels rage, desperation, pain, fear, and heartbreak. As Lou, Olivia Cooke has some limited screen time, but definitely makes an impact with the time she has. As Joe, the head of the deaf addict community, Paul Raci offers a lovely supporting turn as a recovering addict, former veteran, and man who has lost his hearing, but has the strength to live life as best as he can, accepting his inability to hear.
Though I overall loved this film, I found myself a little disappointed with movie’s last act which sputters along to get to the climax. Still, I was greatly impressed with both Marder’s direction and with the amazing acting by Riz Ahmed. Sound of Metal is a remarkable film that I must highly recommend whether one decides to see it theatrically or at home.