During a series of adrenaline-fueled one-night gigs, itinerant punk-metal drummer Ruben Stone (Riz Ahmed) begins to experience intermittent hearing loss. When a specialist tells him his condition will rapidly worsen, he thinks his music career — and with it, his life — is over. His bandmate and girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke) checks the recovering heroin addict into a secluded sober house for the deaf in hopes it will prevent relapse and help him learn to adapt to his new situation. But after being welcomed into a community that accepts him just as he is, Ruben has to choose between his equilibrium and the drive to reclaim the life he once knew.
Darius Marder’s Sound of Metal opens up with a bang, as we see an absolutely electrifying song being performed by drummer Ruben Stone and his singer-girlfriend Lou, and together, they are the two leads in the metal band Blackgammon. Their musical performance is getting the crowd hyped up, and everything seems to be in fairly good and normal order.
But it’s here where you realize that Ruben is not an ordinary drummer at all. Sadly, he is deaf, and thus, playing the drums is a considerable task and he isn’t sure how much longer he will be able to do it. This is his dream and performing with his girlfriend brings him happiness like nothing else in the world.
It all comes back to his deafness though. How can you play the drums when you’re deaf? He can feel and hear the vibrations every time he hits a drum, but even that would be tricky. Shortly after, he learns from a doctor that his hearing is rapidly deteriorating to the point where he will no longer be able to even hear the sensation of the drums upon hitting them.
Sound of Metal is an extremely bold movie that says so much without ever having to literally say a lot in terms of dialogue. It’s an incredible display of Riz Ahmed’s mesmerizing acting talents, who easily delivers one of the strongest and most layered performances of the entire year as Ruben Stone. Sometimes, all you need to do to understand what somebody is going through is simply look at their face – the dialogue in this film isn’t nearly as important as physical actions and facial expressions.
But as sad and as heartbreaking as Sound of Metal often is, it also has some genuinely beautiful and touching moments, particularly the scenes in which we see Ruben interacting with other deaf people in a community center. It’s clear instantly that he has a family in these people and he can rely on them for support no matter what.
Something that this movie needs immense praise for is its masterful sound design that should definitely get a nomination at the upcoming Academy Awards, and in my humble opinion, if it is, then it should win. Oftentimes we will hear things the way Ruben hears things. People’s voices are extraordinarily muffled and echoey, and simple sounds such as water running or somebody closing a door sound off.
All of this is done to make us understand what Ruben is going through on a personal level, and by the time Sound of Metal was over, I felt like I truly knew Ruben and I sympathized with him the whole way through. Darius Marder has crafted a film that is equal parts heartbreaking and inspiring, and it’s rare to find a movie that can pull it off so effortlessly – but Sound of Metal certainly pulls it off.
Overall Grade: A
MPAA Rating: R for language throughout and brief nude images
Directed by: Darius Marder
Distributed by: Amazon Studios
Release Date: November 20, 2020
Running Time: 120 minutes