REVIEW: Sound of Metal is haunting in its silence

(Riz Ahmed plays metal drummer Ruben)

Not for the faint hearted, Darius Marder’s Sound of Metal stars Riz Ahmed (Nightcrawler, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) as Ruben, a punk metal drummer who experiences a sudden onset of hearing loss.

Through Ahmed’s raw and inward performance, we are drawn into a battle with a man in denial at first, and then facing the truth of his worsening condition, we then see his inner fight to retrieve the life he lost.

Ruben is a drummer in a two-person metal band with his girlfriend Lou (earnestly played by Bates Motel’s Olivia Cooke). After a gig where his hearing drops substantially, Ruben consults with an audiologist. He is stunned to learn about 70 percent of his hearing has been lost. Ruben is now faced with the painful truth that his hearing will never return and will worsen.

Lou, aware that Ruben is a recovering addict (clean for four years) and fearing his relapse, takes him to a rehab facility for deaf people. It’s here where Ruben meets his soon-to-be mentor, Joe (impressively played by Paul Raci) who runs the program.

It’s here Ruben receives a crash course in sign language, sets time aside to write out his thoughts and is immersed in the deaf community. Joe tries to convince Ruben to embrace his new life of silence by preaching that deafness is not actually a handicap, but can bring inner peace and closeness to God.

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However, Ruben tries to reclaim his previous life by selling off all his worldly possessions including his RV and sound equipment so he can pay for an expensive operation to receive cochlear implants which he anticipates will recover much of his lost hearing.

The results are not what he had expected as we hear the screeching distorted street noises and sirens surrounding him. His attempts to reunite with his girlfriend Lou who had left him behind and is now staying in Paris with her father (Mattieu Amalric) disappointing.

The choice of ending of this movie is one that will stay with us and puts emphasis on our lone unpredictable life journey.

What is most captivating about this film is the way director Marder captures the vulnerability of being human, assisted by Ahmed’s low key and subtle acting choices. Marder’s choice of tight close ups, allows us to see Ruben’s rollercoaster of emotions, from frustrations and blank faced panic, to discomfort and hope.

The screenplay, co-written by Abraham Marder and adapted from Derek Cianfrance is refreshingly honest, unsentimental and minimal.  Ahmed’s expressive eyes, Marder’s masterful and compassionate direction and the impressive detailed sound design, reveal to us Ruben’s world which is so excruciatingly unbearable to watch at times.

Through the innovative and captivating sound design (Nicholas Becker), we experience Ruben’s worsening condition conveyed through piercing ringing, intricate sound muffles, and then the sound of silence.

This hugely contrasts with the explosive and pounding heavy metal drumming and screeching guitar music at the beginning of the movie and deserves a full movie theater viewing.

I recommend watching with a high quality sound system or headphones for full benefit to further empathize with Ruben’s character and his journey.

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Start to finish this movie was an emotional cinematic ride, devoid of cliches, a beautiful and sensitive feature debut by Marder and a mesmerizing and understated career defining performance by Ahmed who deserves at least Best Actor Oscar Nomination. One of the must see movies of 2020, watch this powerful movie with no distractions!

Bottom Line: Sound of Metal is a Reel See.

Runtime: 120 minutes    Rating: R       Watch: Amazon Prime

Film Critic Francesca De Luca reports on both independent and mainstream, TV and streaming.