Sound Of Metal

Sound Of Metal Film Review

Directed by: Darius Marder

Written by: Darius Marder

Starring: Riz Ahmed, Olivia Cooke, Paul Raci, Lauren Ridloff and Mathieu Amalric 

Sound of Metal has had a long journey to the screen. At first it was intended as Derek Cianfrance’s follow-up to his 2012 film The Place Beyond the Pines. In fact the opening to both films are not dissimilar. In The Place Beyond the Pines we get a tracking shot of Luke, played by Ryan Gosling, a motorcycle stuntman as he makes his way to what they call the Globe of Death. The camera stays as Luke drives his motorcycle in the dome along with other motorcyclists with reckless abandon. He is clearly skilled at what he does. In Sound of Metal, we open with a close-up of Ruben, played by Riz Ahmed, and we stay with him as he pounds out the drum beat to a heavy metal song. Drum expertise on full show. 

Cianfrance gave the rights to the script Metalhead about a heavy metal drummer who suddenly loses his hearing to his co-writing partner of The Place Beyond the Pines, Darius Marder. This is Marder’s first feature film as a director and it is a supremely confident one. Ruben is part of a heavy metal duo Backgammon with his girlfriend Lou (Cooke). They live a transient lifestyle in a rigged out RV- one much more luxurious than can be witnessed in Chloe Zhao’s up-coming Nomadland. It isn’t quite clear just how successful Backgammon are. However, you get the idea they have a solid fan base and they get by just fine. What is clear however, is that both Ruben and Lou have a dark past. We deduce this from Marder’s visual storytelling. Ruben has a tattoo that reads ‘Please Kill Me’ across his chest and Lou has noticeable scars across her wrist. 

I think most people can relate to having ear pain or temporary auditory deficiency when a passenger on a plane. The sensation where you have to extend your jaw, or swallow hard. You may even stick your finger in your ear canal because it feels like something is blocking sound. This is the sensation that Ruben gets- all of a sudden- as he and Lou set up a merchandise stall before a gig. The problem is, Ruben’s hearing does not come back. Ruben is understandably in denial. Nobody wants to admit they have a serious problem at first. He goes on with the gig, hoping for the ‘pop’ that will bring his hearing back to normal. 

When it doesn’t come, Ruben is forced to tell Lou that he ‘can’t hear anything’. Lou is immediately worried as Ruben’s past addiction problems are revealed. He is sent by a sponsor to a special rehab centre for the deaf. What Marder creates from here is an addiction drama mixed with an education about the deaf community. Ruben must choose between accepting his deafness or doing whatever he can to find the money to get back whatever morsel of auditory function his brain can acquire. It is not until he has made this choice can Ruben be at peace. 

Marder cast an all deaf cast as members of the rural deaf community. The last time I witnessed this was in Ukrainian film, The Tribe (2014). The pick of the performances amongst the deaf actors is from Paul Raci, who plays an alcoholic who lost his hearing in the Vietnam War. He becomes somewhat of a sage to Ruben. The amount of heart Raci brings to the role stops their relationship from becoming cliche. The conversations between them seem so true and honest, it reminds one of scenes between Jaoquin Phoenix and Phillip Seymour Hoffman in The Master (2012). For Ahmed’s part, he plays it with those bug eyes, almost constantly out on stilts, reminding the audience of his trouble with past addiction. One can feel the frustrated energy emanating from his performance. Ahmed learned the drums and sign language for the role. This is actually the second time in a year Ahmed has played the role of a musician struck down by a debilitating illness. In Mogul Mowgli (2020) he plays a rapper diagnosed with an autoimmune disease which derails his life and career. Whether this is a coincidence or whether Ahmed sought out these roles is anyone’s guess- many correlations between the two certainly exist. Whatever, this has been a breakthrough year for a rising talent. 

Sound of Metal is an excellent film. I know this because it changed an opinion I was predisposed to. Only great films do this to its audience. This film along with other recent releases such as Soul and Nomadland carry an important message that the peace within and the recognition of self as valuable are important steps on the path to happiness.