Ewan Gleadow

Movie Review: Sound of Metal

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Copyright: Amazon Studios

How we adapt to the challenge’s life throws at us is down to the individual. Some changes and provocations are completely out of our control, though, as shown in Sound of Metal. I thought having a blocked nose with a cold was bad, but imagine that feeling forever. I’d drive myself mad, the frustrations bubble up and over, but perhaps I’ve just got a short fuse. With this feature from director Darius Marder, we follow a drummer coming to terms with the loss of his hearing. Not slowly, or over time, but suddenly. He feels a slight ringing in his ears in the evening, and the very next day he wakes up with muffled noise and an inability to hear those around him.  

What a year Riz Ahmed is having. Between this and Mogul Mowgli, he’s making a name for himself as a reliable lead. Hopefully this’ll lead to a promising series of films soon, he certainly has the talents to make it work. Possibly one of the best performances we’ll see this year, an intense, emotional breakdown as a man tries to deal with the inevitable loss of his hearing. We hear what Ruben (Ahmed) hears, which, for much of the film, is muffled dialogue, sounds that feel distant and echoed. From time to time we get an outsider perspective, we sit with doctors, pharmacists, friends and family, as they try and adapt to a man who can barely hear a word they’re saying. His frustrations are obvious, but it’s the nuance and approach he takes with this role that keeps the film together. 

I wasn’t expecting this to be handled as maturely as it was. Sound of Metal is emotive but not manipulative, its story does much of the legwork, performances that have no trouble getting to grips with the more articulate, poignant moments. Much of the film is spent detailing Ruben understanding his changing lifestyle, one without the music he creates and loves. It’s a jarring moment, the realisation on Ahmed’s face as he understands his condition. Anger, guilt, fear, and strain all throw themselves around the screen, with great direction from Darius Marder. He relies on his performers just as much as they rely on him, a strong working relationship sees incredibly solid supporting performances from Olivia Cooke and Paul Raci. They do great work with Ahmed to bring out the best in one another, with roles that feel real, grounded, and incredibly well developed. 

As much a brief musing on the financial burden of American healthcare as it is a look at how loss of our senses can skewer our emotions, and how seeing deafness as a disability is the wrong outlook to have. Sound of Metal is a phenomenally emotional display, one that deals with hard truths, an assessment of having an inability to accept a new normal, and, above all, displays a fascinatingly mature brevity to both its discussion and dissection of deafness. A superb film, one of the best offerings of this year, with a great message at its heart, and perfect performances to tell it.