Directed by Darius Marder, Sound of Metal is the story of a drummer, Ruben, who begins to lose his hearing and his coming to terms with the disability.
Although titled slightly misleadingly, Sound of Metal has nothing to do with metal. It has nothing to do with music either. This is entirely a film about an individual coming to terms with a major disability. It’s about his life turning upside down almost overnight immediately and his struggle to accept this new state. The reason I say that is that I personally went in expecting a different movie than the one I got. This isn’t a bad thing, and I knew what to expect 20 minutes into the runtime. I still loved it, but I just wish I weren’t expecting more than it had to offer. So, keep that in mind before you watch it.
Darius Marder’s directorial debut has tiny missteps that are evident but overall is a remarkable debut. His ability to invoke emotions through complete silence is what drives most of the film. Additionally, the use of sound to make us experience what Ruben does whilst doing a back-and-forth with the world around him feels seamless. It’s almost hard to imagine someone making a debut with such a ‘sound’ understanding of the cinematic language.
Riz Ahmed invokes his career-best performance, probably in contention as one of the best this year. His frustration, anguish, and restlessness are heartbreaking to witness. The first act of the film genuinely terrified me. A huge part of that was his incredible portrayal of being just bewildered by what was happening to him. Even if by any chance the movie doesn’t work for you, Riz Ahmed’s performance is more than enough to keep you invested.
The movie also does an excellent job of showcasing a functioning life without hearing altogether. It does it in a subtle way with tons of minute details that make it feel authentic and respectful to the deaf community. What this accomplishes is that it makes us, and Ruben wonders about the things we would be willing to let go. It makes for some emotionally powerful moments where Ruben contemplates leaving the past behind or work towards what he had.
What doesn’t work
There are some unfortunate missteps as well. There is a considerable jump in Ruben’s character development. He makes a significant leap in his mental state as a deaf individual, which probably should’ve ideally been more gradual. The movie also ends at a point I thought would happen much earlier or around halfway and we would get to see Ruben beyond that.
This might not be a problem for most but being called the Sound of Metal, I expected the film to go back to music, which it never does. Not a major complaint by any means. The whole metal drummer angle is just a plot-device to get Ruben deaf. The movie could’ve just accomplished that by making it happen with a more general premise. Especially considering how the film never really goes back to music. Ruben could’ve not been a drummer, gone deaf due to an accident and the film would probably remain the same.
Sound of Metal’s slightly misleading premise ends up as a film not about music but rather about a man’s struggles coping with being deaf. Riz Ahmed’s career-best performance and a remarkable directorial debut from Darius Marder give us a film that treats the deaf respectfully and shows the disability is just another challenge.