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Film Review: Sound of Metal

17 April 21 words: Hollie Anderson

Hollie Anderson bangs the drum for Sound of Metal’s story of reliance, recovery and resilience.

Director: Darius Marder
Starring: Riz Ahmed, Olivia Cooke, Paul Raci
Running time: 120 minutes

Sound of Metal, starring Riz Ahmed (Four Lions, Mogul Mowgli, The OA), is one of the most hotly-tipped films of this year’s Academy Awards. Having also been nominated for a Golden Globe, one SAGA and four BAFTAs (winning two), I was intrigued to see why this film about metal musician Ruben losing his hearing had struck a chord with so many critics. 

I initially thought this film would be about Ruben’s hearing deteriorating, and his relationship with drumming. However, in true Prime style, the trailer is misleading. Instead, we follow Ruben as he grapples with his history of addiction which then becomes tightly interlaced with his need to find money for a treatment so he can reunite with his girlfriend, versus his time in a d/Deaf community where acceptance of hearing impairment is the focus. 

The film’s narrative has been perfectly pieced together by director Darius Marder and beautifully shot. But what is really striking is the use of sound; even quiet moments are rich with noise and the silence Ruben experiences are coupled starkly with what he is now missing. 

In terms of cast, Riz Ahmed has created a character that we want to see safe, but is battling too many demons to take the right path. Ruben is a delicately formed portrayal of addiction that captivates for the whole film; we all know real-life people like him and at times it can strike almost too close to home.

Not only are we immersing ourselves in a sense of loss and fear, but also the self-loathing, anger and frustration that come with the human condition

The plot, however, is triggered by Ruben’s relationships with others. Paul Raci, who plays Joe - Ruben’s mentor and d/Deaf sponsor - has also been nominated for an Oscar. He gives a performance centred around his love for fellow humans and his air of acceptance and stillness are at the very root of the film. Raci is the son of deaf parents and is a sign language interpreter – this understanding of the subject matter shines throughout his performance, and grounds the film beautifully. 

Ruben’s partner and bandmate Lou, played by Olivia Cooke, highlights Ruben’s battle with addiction and their interplay and reliance on one another soften Ruben’s character, which may have otherwise fallen into damaging tropes surrounding addiction. I also enjoyed Chelsea Lee as Jenn, and Lauren Ridloff as the teacher Diane. Many will note the difficulty of acting through sign language (in this case ASL, not BSL – which some UK d/Deaf viewers may find frustrating), but it’s important and encouraging to see the employment of d/Deaf individuals and interpreters as actors. Research and consultation never make up for oversights in inclusive casting.

The only minor issues are that there is no real sense of the time that is passing, and we learn very little about Ruben’s condition. It is hard to know how rashly Ruben is making his decisions and how much he or Lou understand his hearing loss and the potential treatments available. Even then, however, it could be argued that this helps us experience the sense of powerlessness and confusion that Ruben and his peers endure. 

The hardest, yet best, thing about this film is its familiarity. Not only are we immersing ourselves in a sense of loss and fear, but also the self-loathing, anger and frustration that come with the human condition. We as the audience also have to question what is most important in life and consider the path to recovery, acceptance and stillness. It is so worth following Ruben on his journey towards those fleeting moments.

Did you know? For this role, Riz Ahmed had to wear devices in his ear canal that would emit white noise when activated from director Darius Marder's phone. Marder initially hit the button without warning Ahmed so that the actor's reaction would be genuine. "There's this real physical process happening in that scene," Marder explained.

Sound of Metal is available now on Prime Video

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