SOUND OF METAL (Darius Marder) is an affecting journey from club stages to stillness in a quiet world. The film primarily follows Ruben Stone (Riz Ahmed), a drummer for a heavy metal act called Blackgammon. Ruben and his partner Lou (Olivia Cooke) live in an Airstream motorhome that serves as a residence and travelling studio. Following a performance, Ruben notices profound hearing loss. This event is the first link in a chain forged by a new future.
In spite of a career playing angry music, he seems almost happy go lucky. A recovered heroin user, he starts his morning with a routine of exercise and vegetable juice. His past addictions are revealed, but never a focus. Lou copes by engaging in self-harm, the act isn’t shown, but evidence of cutting on her arm is. They both feel they’ve saved each other, although the extent of salvation is unclear.
As it becomes obvious that Ruben’s life as a drummer is slipping away, arrangements are made to set him up at a centre for those with addictions and auditory challenges. He’s taken under the wing of Joe (Paul Raci), the centre’s director, with hope delivered through tough love.
The film’s premise may not seem intriguing, but the presentation is highly rewarding to those that give it a chance. Without recalling other stories that broach the subject of deafness, THE SOUND OF METAL is surely one of the best. Ahmed’s performance as Ruben is truly captivating. Moments that could’ve been simple silence, are screaming through his expressions and body language. The worry, anxiety, and fear are projected from a single glance. At times it feels like close-ups of Ruben are treated like an artist’s painting, or even more symbolically as a still photograph. It would be interesting to watch this film with a director’s commentary, as many scenes likely have symbolism that could pass unnoticed.
Complimenting the affecting performances, the film’s sound is utilised to share the experience of hearing loss and deafness. There are moments that if one were deaf, it’s unlikely there would be any awareness of anything going on, yet seconds later the environment is switched back on. There is a heavy usage of distorted sound, tinnitus-like ringing, and absolute silence. Those moments can seem strangely contemplative, and could be frustrating for some viewers, but do so much more to tell the story.
SOUND OF METAL is proudly recommended as more than a story about a deaf musician, but a fascinating experience. It’s a rare occasion that truly comes full circle, and viewers might find the lessons very resonating. The story never reveals much of Ruben’s life, but provides the unabridged script that leads to his next chapter, and the realisation of beauty in still moments he’d never bothered to observe.
SOUND OF METAL is now available on Digital via Apple TV, Google Play & Cineplex Store and streaming on Amazon Prime in the United States.