Oscar Nominations 2021 – FILM REVIEW: Sound of Metal (2019)

Dir: Darius Marder

Nominated for: Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Original Screenplay, Best Film Editing, Best Sound.

Score: ★★★☆☆

This touching and occasionally tough drama about a drummer who loses his hearing starts in the violently noisy confines of a gig as musician Ruben Stone (Riz Ahmed), hammers his kit into oblivion backing up his (we soon learn) girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke) lead singer of their metal duo ‘Blackgammon’. It becomes obvious pretty quickly that Ruben’s hearing is about to fall off a cliff and Ruben is quickly plucked from his commendably realistically portrayed life as a gigging, touring musician, (the film is quite obviously filmed to some degree in real settings with real people). From this cacophony of drums Ruben is then not only plunged into near silence but into a world of deafness that extends far beyond just his hearing loss.

Riz Ahmed gives a nicely understated performance as Ruben

Ruben’s journey is one that transcends the rather harrowing early moments of the film as Ruben realises his hearing is damaged, and explores how he chooses to react to this horror that could easily rip away everything he holds dear including his beloved drums and his girlfriend Lou. Riz Ahmed does very well as a musician having to choose between perhaps naively running back towards his old life or breaking down his own resistance to the coming change that is inevitable. His search for a ‘cure’ is both commendable in its perseverance and heart breaking in its opposition to the other deaf voices he finds who steadfastly don’t see deafness as something that needs to be ‘cured’. The film does a great job of taking us on Ruben’s journey into deafness, whilst also struggling with his historic fight against sobriety. We are right there with Ruben’s panic, anger and frustration, just as we are when his sadness turns to joy in moments that see him flirt with a more meaningful existence beyond the drummer’s stool as the film dips its toe in the water of a few slightly touchy-feely concepts such as ‘flow’ and ‘stillness’. The film has the odd twee, potentially cliche moment but it never overpowers what is a meaningful, sensitive exploration of the subject.

Paul Raci’s performance is heartfelt as deaf shelter mentor Joe

Director Darius Marder’s big screen debut is a simply shot affair that observes a world of natural light in an almost documentary style (Marder’s first and only other film was a doc) that attempts to plainly present Ruben’s time at a shelter for the deaf with only the lightest of stylised touches. This naturalistic / doc like photography is similar in tone to almost all other facets of the film including the performances, the script and even in its necessarily overt and often brilliant sound design which is all too effective at being anxiety inducing. There is a heartfelt turn from Paul Raci as Ruben’s mentor Joe, and Raci as the hearing son of deaf parents clearly drew upon his own well of experience in adding another layer of gentle authenticity to the film. Plus, there is a the rather quirky appearance from Mathieu Amalric as Lou’s father. Never an unwelcome presence Amalric ushers in another phase of the film that veers towards a more lyrical section that allows Riz Ahmed’s character to truly begin his journey towards to the very opposite of the film’s brash opening. Perhaps the sound of drumming was just a noisy distraction from the addictions that plagued him. The film seems to be asking us can we be OK not just whilst sitting on a drummer’s stool taking out life’s frustrations on a drum kit, but can we be OK just sitting. There is nothing earth shattering on display in Sound of Metal, but it is certainly not just a cheap cinematic entertainment distraction. It’s a thoughtful film with ideas that are worthy of ‘just sitting’ with for 120 minutes, despite the fact it never quite soars into true greatness.

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