Emotionally Raw Character Study
Sound of Metal, helmed by first-time director Darius Marder, opens with a loud, distorted cacophony of modulation, ringing, and unpleasant noise as a two-piece metal band thrashes about the stage at a concert. After nearly five minutes (which begins to feel like a lifetime), the unsettling reverberation suddenly halts to a pure auditory blackout. The abrupt silence is a much-welcomed relief. And thatís the central theme of Marderís (who co-writes with Derek Cianfrance, The Place Beyond the Pines) Sound of Metal, which perfectly illustrates the idea that learning to live without something (in this case, the sense of hearing), rather than fighting it, can be a liberating experience.
The musicians are Ruben (Riz Ahmed, Nightcrawler), a heavy metal drummer and his girlfriend/bandmate Lou (Olivia Cooke, Ready Player One). They travel around Europe in a beat up motor coach to play their improvisational metal in mostly empty venues. When Ruben is suddenly faced with unexpected hearing loss, Lou encourages him to seek the care of a Vietnam-vet-turned-deaf-community-advocate named Joe (Paul Raci, TVís Goliath) who attempts to help Ruben adjust to his new lifestyle.
Itís at this point that Marder deftly morphs his story of loss and despair into one of hope and rehabilitation. As we follow Ruben on his experiential journey through pain, loss, and eventual acceptance, we begin to understand that not everyone considers deafness a disability. This point is driven home when Ruben is kicked out of the group home for getting cochlear implants. Joe reminds Ruben that his inability to hear is not an affliction to cure, but something he must learn to accept.
In addition to the monumental performances of all involved (particularly Ahmed, who will undoubtedly be mentioned come awards season), the big star of the show here is Marderís startling and innovative sound techniques which take us inside Rubenís experience. Once there, weíre able to join Ruben on his journey into a rarely examined world where he will be faced with choosing between serenity and the drive to regain the life he once lived.
Sound Editor Nicolas Becker, who has worked as sound designer on such films as Gravity and Mic Macs, plies his craft in Sound of Metal in such a way that the audience is given a frightening demonstration of what it might be like to have hearing loss. And at the same time, Marder open captions the entire movie in English, making it accessible for both hearing and deaf audiences. Not only do Marder and Cianfrance give Ruben a wonderfully realized emotional arc (which Ahmed takes full advantage of), but theyíve also made the film work for both hearing and deaf audiences. Brilliant!
There are countless movies out there that take on the inspirational stories of people with physical disabilities while attempting to present those struggles with a cathartic cleansing that makes us able-bodied citizens feel good about ourselves for caring about the disabled. Some do a better job of it than others. The recent Crip Camp comes to mind as a great example of how a film can help us see past a personís disabilities. Letís add Sound of Metal to that list. It is an emotionally raw character study that always feels authentic and presents its message without even once heaping pity on the disabled.
Also starring Mathieu Amalric, Lauren Ridloff, and William Xifaras. Sound of Metal is currently playing on Amazon Prime in the United States. It is a truly sensitive and moving portrait buoyed by one of the yearís best performances.
(Released by Amazon and rated ďRĒ for language throughout and brief nude images.)
Review also posted at www.franksreelreviews.com)