Sound of Metal Movie Review (Spoiler Free)
Groundbreaking, heartbreaking, intoxicating and surprisingly relatable. Sound of Metal is one of the best dramas of 2020, featuring a brilliant Riz Ahmed.
Genre: Drama / Music
Director: Darius Marder
Cast: Riz Ahmed, Olivia Cooke, Paul Raci, Lauren Ridloff & Mathieu Amalric
Run Time: 120 min.
US Release: 04 December 2020 (amazon.prime)
UK Release: 17 May 2021
German Release: 04 December 2020 (amazon.prime)
This is director Darius Marder’s debut picture, who co-wrote the story with his brother and created a groundbreaking new style of film. Not only did he portray the deaf community as a normal, social group; something other features in the past depicted as a handicap, but he also brought the world of the hearing and deaf closer together, through the intriguing artistic choice to display his narrative.
Ruben is a punk-rock drummer, keeping his inner demons at bay by devoting himself fully to the music he produces with his girlfriend Lou. Both have been living in the moment for the past four years when Ruben’s hearing suddenly starts to deteriorate. Once his loss of hearing starts to interfere with his music, Ruben is thrown into freefall, as anger, denial and desperation are slowly starting to take over. He will need to learn to accept help if he wants to regain control of his own life.
This is by far one of the best-written movies of 2020! Sound of Metal contains a message of acceptance in its plot core, which is especially important during this past trying times. Structurally, it is told in a simple linear story, following the life of a drummer who needs to deal with his upcoming deafness. However, peeling off the layers of the narrative, a complex structure of human emotions and life lessons starts to unfold, taught by life itself, as it doesn’t bend to man-made rules - more often than not, it gets in our way, as seen by the COVID pandemic.
Sound of Metal teaches us not only to accept but embrace those moments, which turn life upside down, not blocking our path to happiness and enlightenment, by lingering in the past with “what-ifs” or “could-have-beens”. Not everyone manages to accept life-altering u-turns, some get stuck in their previous lives, never managing to move on. It is sometimes a harsh lesson to learn that can be quite frustrating to accept, especially for an artist; in this case, a musician, who can’t enjoy music the way he used to, as he was handed some life-altering cards. Yet, there lies the beauty in this feature, as it hits a very emotional chord the viewer can sympathise with.
The use of spoken dialogue is being held to a minimum, an artistic choice that brings the main character's experience of his hearing loss, closer to the viewer. By the end of the first act and the beginning of the second act, a lot of conversations are being held in sign language, a milestone in modern cinema, giving the hearing a peek into the world of the deaf.
The complete film relies on Riz Ahmed, who plays protagonist Ruben, drummer and co-founder of the punk-rock band Blackgammon which is also fronted by his girlfriend Lou. The couple is touring through the United States in their mobile home RV when Ruben’s hearing - which is every night under constant stress, due to the intense noise level they are playing in - suddenly starts deteriorating. Once his hearing problem also starts to bring up past emotional traumas, Ruben is forced to find help, to cope with his growing anger and frustration that is endangering the life he built with Lou.
Ahmed gives an extremely powerful performance, masterfully conveying the character’s anger and despair; as he painfully tries to hold on to his hearing, his most prized sensory organ. Ahmed manages to display these raw emotions, with simple facial expressions and little, close to no dialogue.
Lou, portrayed by Olivia Cooke, is the other half of Blackgammon and Ruben’s anchor. Just like Ruben, she also went through a chaotic period in life, which is sadly never explored; just quickly talked about in a couple of scenes. A shame, as it would have given the audience a much better understanding of who Lou is, as well as why Ruben is so fixated on her. As it stands she is nothing more than a simple side character with an intriguing past.
Their relationship, however, is written interesting; depicted as leading two very different sides in life. During the day, Lou and Ruben are inseparable romantics, sharing healthy breakfasts in their RV, philosophising and discussing different points of view in life, as well as looking lovey-dovey into each other's eyes. At night, the duo expresses their pain and frustration with the past, through deafening, rebellious music. Lou becomes distant, nearly unreachable, while Ruben is stuck behind his drum kit in one spot.
Joe, a recovering alcoholic who lost his hearing during the Vietnam War, is another important personality that enters Ruben's life. Leading a shelter for deaf recovering addicts, he becomes something like a surrogate father. He tries to guide Ruben through his loss of hearing, trying to explain to him that it is not a handicap but a simple matter of acceptance, a change in life that can lead to something more or possibly better.
Joe is played by Paul Raci, an actor who grew up with parents who were deaf, thus fluent in sign language. His portrayal of Joe is very realistic and powerful but just as Lou, his character is sadly not developed enough.
From the opening sequence in that dingy dark room, where the sound of the Blackgammon is displayed in beautiful purplish-green colours, the picture sets a specific tone that mesmerises. The movie was shot in 2-perf 35 mm Kodak film, with dutch cinematographer Daniël Bouquet helming as director of photography, who does a beautiful job at capturing the sound as picture. The near documentary style of cinematography gives the story an even more intimate feeling.
As for the sound effects, they are a character themselves. A constant companion in Ruben’s transition that either appears or disappears, but is always lingering over him. The techniques used to imitate Ruben’s loss of hearing, give the audience an idea of what it can feel like to become deaf.
Verdict: Darius Mader’s debut feature is a milestone in modern cinema, bridging a gap of understanding, between the hearing and the deaf world, through experimental, stylistic and artistic choices made by the director, sound technicians, as well as cinematographer. The plot focuses on transitions in life, which can not be reversed and how acceptance or embracing change can be the power to a happier life, even enlightenment. The performances by Riz Ahmed, Olivia Cooke and Paul Raci are powered by emotions, while the sound in the film becomes a character itself. The only complaint I have is that the narrative focuses so hard on Ruben, that everyone around him becomes nothing more than a mere shadow. Nevertheless, Sound of Metal is in my opinion one of the best and most important movies of the 2020s, absolutely deserving a 9.5 out of 10.
I highly recommend Darius Mader’s feature, it is an incredible visual and auditory experience! Thank you for reading!