Film review by Jason Day of the drama about a heavy metal band’s drummer who starts to lose his hearing and adjusting to life being deaf. Starring Riz Ahmed, Olivia Cooke and directed by Darius Marder.
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Ruben (Riz Ahmed) is the skilled drummer with cult metal band BlackGammon and the boyfriend of its singer Lou (Olivia Cooke). On discovering he is losing his hearing, he seeks the help of doctors who advise him to avoid loud sounds. Lou has little idea how to deal with their new reality and they split when he enters a local deaf community to try and find his feet.
But Ruben is determined to have surgery for a cochlear implant that will enable him to hear better and complete BlackGammon’s next planned album and tour and to please Lou. His decision threatens to put him in conflict with the deaf community.
Review, by @Reelreviewer
The success of Sound of Metal, rather unsurprisingly, comes down as much to its brilliant sound wizards as much as it does to the performance of the brilliant Riz Ahmed.
Sound of Metal is bang on with that half of a movie. Right from BlackGammon’s opening stage performance, the sound design is incredible. We are already being drawn into what will be Ruben’s new world. Cooke’s singing and the music are dulled, muffled, vague. It’s like the viewer has been given a cinematic cold or we’ve had cotton wool bunged in our ears.
This is continued throughout the film. Conversations sound like those we have on our mobiles when the reception is so poor it’s as if the other person is sat down a well or in the loo. It must have been extremely complicated to replicate what deaf people and the hearing impaired can experience, so good news the team have an Academy Award nomination for Sound.
Ahmed is a British-Pakistani former rapper turned actor whose biggest role is in the Star Wars offshoot Rogue One. His biggest surprise is in this film as he proves not only can he act, but he can act very well indeed.
So much so that his role here has been received international recognition. Following Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations for Best Actor, he is also up for an Oscar in the same category, making him the first Muslim up for that statuette.
It’s a hugely impressive and mature leading performance; he more or less takes all of the dramatic requirements on solo shoulders. His big, wide-open, almond eyes not only express the incomprehension and fear of having the rug totally pulled from under his feet – you can see the whites in his eyes at all times – but also suggest he is taking everything in visually. Studying his doctors for their expressions and trying to lip read and watching the complicated sign language of his deaf peers to learn it, Ahmed is full on attuned.
The tattoo on his chest says ‘Please Kill Me’ and at points throughout the film you can see Ruben willing an early demise rather than face a life in silence.
Cooke – who for me is up there with the best of modern day actors for a string of great turns and must have had Thackeray dancing in his grave as his Becky Sharp in TV’s Vanity Fair – is only fleetingly on screen (and, at the beginning, with lighter eyebrows, is almost unrecognisable), but likewise makes the right noises as a young woman totally out of her depth with the sudden onset disability of her partner.
The rather sangfroid and sanguine nature of the deaf community (played by deaf and hearing impaired actors) contrast interestingly with Ruben, who resists all attempts to fit in when he first stays with them. You have to wonder if their leader Joe (Paul Raci) has had to deal with the same resistance from them in the past.
Flooding them with sign language and a vehement “no surgery” attitude, it’s no wonder Ruben is overwhelmed and refuses to comply. The ending then, as bliss erupts on Ruben’s face as he removes the cochlear implant that has been punishing his brain with a cacophony of shrills, shrieks and pulses, lets the sun bathe him in warmth and finally embraces being deaf. He sees the beauty in the world and life again.
This film might turn out to contain the happiest cinematic ending of the year.
Cast & credits
Director: Darius Marder. 2hr/120mins. Caviar/Amazon Studios/Amazon Prime. (15).
Producers: Sacha Ben Harroche, Kathy Benz, Bert Hamelinck,
Writers: Abraham Marder, Darius Marder.
Camera: Daniël Bouquet.
Music: Nicolas Becker, Abraham Marder.
Sets: Jeremy Woodward.
Riz Ahmed, Olivia Cooke, Paul Raci, Lauren Ridloff, Mathieu Amalric, Domenico Toledo, Chelsea Lee, Shaheem Sanchez, Chris Perfetti, Bill Thorpe.