Movie Review: Sound of Metal

With our cinemas in Hong Kong still closed, my attention has gone back to what’s on the streaming services. Fortunately, as it’s December and the studios are releasing their Oscar-buzzy films, there’s plenty of interesting movies to choose from. One of them is SOUND OF METAL.

In the film, Ruben (Riz Ahmed, THE SISTERS BROTHERS) is a drummer and one-half of the grunge metal duet known as Blackgammon that is fronted by his girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke, ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL). When he suddenly loses 80 percent of his hearing, Ruben’s doctor tells him that he can consider getting cochlear implants to correct it but, in the meantime, he must eliminate all exposure to loud noises. For Ruben, who is a recovering drug addict and has been clean for four years, the news that his drumming career is essentially over is devastating. Ruben’s Nar-Anon sponsor recommends he go to a community for recovering addicts who are deaf that is run by Joe (Paul Raci), a supportive but no-nonsense recovering alcoholic who lost his own hearing in the Vietnam War. Joe encourages Ruben to embrace his new situation, and Ruben does to some extent, but all Ruben really wants to do is get the operation, return to Lou and resume their music career together. Lou, meanwhile, has reconnected with her father, Richard (Mathieu Amalric, AT ETERNITY’S GATE; SINK OR SWIM).

First-time feature director Darius Marder (screenwriter, THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES), who also co-wrote the screenplay along with his brother Abraham, has created a powerful story about losing the things that give us stability set against the backdrop of addiction and instability. Ahmed delivers a masterful performance here, portraying a young man who is shoved onto a new path in life and must find the courage to accept it because he knows all too well what will happen if he doesn’t. Ruben, we learn, with all of his tattoos, bleached hair and twitchiness, is essentially a good guy who made bad choices earlier in his life. Because of that, he is always just one hit away from a relapse. Unfortunately for him, the things that got him clean can’t give him his old life back, as much as he would wish that they could. To its immense credit, SOUND OF METAL never tugs at the heartstrings nor does it follow the tack of so many “triumph of the spirit” films. There’s no equivalent scene here where Ruben runs up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art or wakes up one morning to find that he can perform again. Instead, his lightbulb moment — moments really — come in the most subtle of ways.

Surprisingly, for a movie about a musician, SOUND OF METAL has almost no score. Sound editor Nicolas Becker (foley artist, SUSPIRIA; GRAVITY) instead created a soundscape that immerses the audience into Ruben’s world. We hear what he hears — muffled, distorted or sometimes nothing at all. The pairing makes us understand Ruben’s frustrations and choices all the more.

SOUND OF METAL is streaming now on Amazon Prime Video. This is one film that you shouldn’t miss. I wouldn’t be surprised if Ahmed nabs an Oscar nomination for his performance.

Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live on Friday, December 11th, 8:30 am HK time!

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