Screenwriter Darius Marder teams up yet again with filmmaker Derek Cianfrance. Only this time, the roles are reversed with executive producer Cianfrance taking a story credit and Marder (still penning the screenplay) stepping into the director’s chair. The finished film, Sound of Metal, is as much of a masterpiece as their last collaboration, The Place Beyond the Pines.
Ruben (Rogue One’s Riz Ahmed) and Lou (Thoroughbreds’ Olivia Cooke) are the sole members of Blackgammon, an intense metal band who have found their break touring different hole-in-the-wall venues. When seasoned drummer Ruben starts noticing a ringing in his ears, he dismisses it. But the morning after a gig, his hearing is muted and hollow – he’s experiencing immediate deafness. Though he’s stubborn about continuing the tour, it’s insisted that Ruben must put the music on hold to seek rehabilitation and protect what’s left of his hearing. He finds refuge at a deaf commune overseen and managed by a kind older man named Joe (Paul Raci) who encourages and guides Ruben to accept the hand he’s been dealt. However, as a passionate musician, Ruben wants to return to his understanding of normalcy as he eyes an expensive surgery for cochlear implants.
While the film’s title refers to Blackgammon’s music, Sound of Metal could just as easily refer to two forces grinding and scraping together; a fitting description of Ruben’s struggle to adapt to his deafness. Ahmed, in a performance that deserves accolades, is perfect as a recovering addict who is losing his grip on the loves of his life – his drumming and Lou. There isn’t a lot of backstory, but the filmmakers make sure they cover any existing character work through intimate discussions (notably talks between Ahmed and an equally amazing Raci). Ruben has a fascinating arc that carries him through his initial ignorance into being more accepting, but his growth is prevented by the tease of “getting better” – an accessible and relatable dilemma for anyone who has ever refused to let go of something they cherish.
Then, there’s the film’s visceral element which elevates the movie into a whole new territory. A hearty portion of Sound of Metal is seen from Ruben’s perspective, meaning the audience experiences the same audible distortion as he gradually endures. It’s a wild submersion that earns our sympathy for the character right away, and our respect for the technical efforts conveyed by the filmmakers to give viewers the most genuine experience. The respect goes further by close-captioning the entire movie for viewers who are hearing impaired (including selecting when to caption sign language), and casting members of the deaf community as those who end up inspiring Ruben in the commune.
Sound of Metal is truly a one-of-a-kind movie. Though it’s a shame a movie like it hasn’t been conceived sooner, I’m thankful it exists now.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie