The 400-Word Review: The Sound of Metal
By Sean Collier
December 4, 2020
“Sound of Metal” is what you might call a difficult watch, due to a peculiar emotional confluence. The laudable film, from director Darius Marder, keeps its protagonist at the exact distance to evoke both empathy and pity; we hear what he hears, but are kept from feeling what he feels.
It’s a neat trick.
That protagonist is Ruben (Riz Ahmed), a recovering addict keeping his life together via rigorous control over a nomadic existence. He’s the drummer in a heavy-metal duo with his singer/guitarist girlfriend, Lou (Olivia Cooke); they roam the country in a small but not tiny RV, playing small but not tiny gigs.
Ruben maintains himself via fastidious exercise, cleaning, eating and more, making a regimen out of a chaotic lifestyle. That tight grip is torn away when Ruben suddenly loses his hearing, being thrust into deafness likely invoked by his very loud vocation. Every aspect of his life, including his relationship and sobriety, is threatened.
Marder renders this change deliberately and decisively, seamlessly flowing between the world as Ruben hears it and the world outside of his newly useless ears. It’s deft, making us viscerally experience the frustrating change without distancing the narrative.
It’s the script — co-written by Marder and his brother, Abraham, with a story credit given to the writer/director Derek Cianfrance — that keeps Ruben at arms’ length. As much as we may feel for his sudden plight, we can only pity his head-in-the-sand response to it. In many ways, we see Ruben go through the stages of grief; we know that his hearing isn’t coming back, and that his life must change, long before he does.
He takes the whole movie to get there, in fact. Ruben eventually moves into a home for deaf addicts run by Joe (Paul Raci), a patient, only slightly new-age type. Initial defensiveness — he doesn’t want to move in until Lou insists — gives way to an adeptness at American Sign Language and rewarding work with deaf children.
Even then, Ruben begins quietly planning to hock the R.V. in pursuit of an implant that may restore part of his hearing, still begging for a reprieve from his circumstances. It’s heartbreaking, a mode the film maintains throughout. So yes, “Sound of Metal” is difficult — because it means to be. It’s an impressive, bordering on dazzling, film in its skill and command of the viewer.
My Rating: 9/10
“Sound of Metal” is now streaming on Amazon Prime.