PLOT: A heavy metal drummer (Riz Ahmed) who’s also a recovering addict, suddenly loses his hearing. Trying desperately to hold on to his sobriety, he finds a community of hearing-impaired former addicts who help him adjust to his new normal.
REVIEW: Darius Marder’s SOUND OF METAL ranks as one of the most impressive feature directing debuts I’ve ever seen. A deeply empathetic tale that treats its hero’s affliction not as a problem to cure but rather something to accept and move on with, this should rocket to the top of everyone’s must-see lists as it makes its debut on Amazon Prime this weekend (in Canada – it’s available on PVOD).
More than anything though, it provides its star, Riz Ahmed, with what deserves to be the defining role of his career. When we talk about great performances given this year, no list worth taking seriously will overlook his name, and if there’s any justice he’ll be recognized by all the major award shows. I doubt anyone this year gave a better performance.
When you make a movie about deafness, especially if it comes from outside of the community, the instinct would be to make something about trying to move on, as obviously it’s a tremendous loss. What makes Sound of Metal interesting is that being deaf is only part of the central character’s journey (similar in some ways to the underrated It’s All Gone Pete Tong). He gets no pity from the film for his condition, nor do the people he meets along the way, including a no-nonsense sober living guru, played by Paul Raci (a veteran and the child of deaf parents), who tells him that being deaf is not a condition that they feel needs to be cured.
It’s Ahmed’s refusal to accept the silence that’s his real journey here, with him hellbent on undergoing a pricey cochlear implant surgery that he hopes will be the magic bullet that will fix his life. It’s not as easy as that – as the film brilliantly depicts through its incredible sound design. Never before has a film so accurately (I assume) depicted what it would be like to be stricken deaf, with the soundtrack muted from his perspective early on as he tries to communicate. Much of the dialogue is in ASL (American Sign Language) but the film only starts to integrate subtitles once the character starts to learn the language. We’re in his shoes throughout.
Ahmed makes his character, Ruben Stone, a fully formed, three-dimensional guy. What’s most interesting about his performance is that being deaf isn’t necessarily Ruben’s big problem – although he certainly thinks it is. When we meet him, and he can hear, there are already signs that things aren’t well, with him in a loving but entirely co-dependent relationship with his bandmate, Olivia Cooke’s Lou. He’s recovering from substance abuse, she’s a cutter, and both find solace in each other. Raci’s character sees right through this, knowing that Ruben needs to be cut off from Lou if he’s going to adjust to his new reality. They both go on a journey of self-discovery, which, for Lou, involves reconnecting with a life left behind in Paris. She’s a fully-rounded supporting character. You get the sense that while Ruben’s doing his thing she’s on her own journey, and this is one of the few films I’ve seen lately where everyone, right down to the smallest bit player, feels like a real person with their own hurdles to overcome.
I really can’t praise Sound of Metal enough folks. In the States, it’s an Amazon Prime original, while in Canada you have to rent or buy it digitally. I liked this movie so much that even though the studio sent me a free screener, I went out and pre-ordered it digitally just because I wanted to support such a great movie – and you should all know I’m CHEAP, so this is a big thing (haha). Truly, this movie is some kind of masterpiece and one I’ll be returning to a lot in the years to come.