Sound of Metal: Film Review

Sound of Metal

Sound of Metal is yet another awards season film which has been continually delayed in the UK due to Covid so I’m glad it’s finally getting released just in time for the Oscars, where it has been nominated six times.

Darius Marder‘s film is basically a character study of Ruben Stone (Riz Ahmed), a drummer and one half of the metal duo Blackgammon who tours the U.S. in an RV with his girlfriend and bandmate Lou (Olivia Cooke). One day, he begins to lose his hearing. Concerned about his sobriety, Lou and Ruben’s sponsor Hector find the drummer a place at a rural retreat for deaf recovering addicts, where he must learn sign language and accept his newfound deafness. Ruben is determined to undergo expensive surgery to have implants fitted to help him hear, which disappoints Joe (Paul Raci), who runs the retreat on the principle that being deaf is not a handicap.

They are many positives about Sound of Metal, but its biggest strength is the sound design. It puts the audience in Ruben’s shoes and gives us a taste of what it might sound like to gradually lose your hearing. It really makes you realise what it’s like to hear nothing but complete silence in a crowded room and how much you take your hearing for granted. In another genius move, there are no subtitles when the characters use sign language until Ruben has learned to understand it, so this makes you as clueless about what they’re saying as he is. I also never knew what a hearing implant would actually sound like to a deaf person and it’s eye-opening and extraordinary. This film is so effective at showing Ruben’s perspective in the most immersive way. It can feel disorientating and confusing at times, but that’s the whole point.

Ahmed well and truly threw himself into the role of Ruben, learning drums in the space of seven months and how to communicate using American Sign Language. Even without all the dedicated prep he had to do, it’s still an impressive performance. Ruben, who has been sober for four years after being a heroin addict, essentially goes through the stages of grief as he’s mourning the loss of his hearing, his old life, and his drumming days, and he goes on a bumpy journey to accept his deafness. Ahmed expertly navigates Ruben’s ups and downs and deserves his Oscar nomination.

I’m thrilled that Raci, the hearing son of deaf parents, has been nominated too for his role as Joe, a recovering alcoholic who lost his hearing in the Vietnam War. He is a firm authority figure who takes a tough love approach with Ruben. Marder adds so much authenticity to the film by using actors who are deaf or connected to the deaf community. I was excited to see Lauren Ridloff, who plays one of my fave late-season characters on The Walking Dead, play a kind and warm teacher. Cooke rounds out the main cast as the girlfriend who always has so much worry and concern painted on her face. Even though she would like to keep Ruben company, she knows he needs space to himself to get used to his deafness.

I must admit that I thought the film was a bit too long and my attention started to wane after Ruben got his implants but Marder brought it back with a satisfying conclusion. That’s just a small niggle about a film with a moving character arc, terrific performances and stunning sound design. Go check it out!

On Amazon Prime Video from Monday 12th April

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

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