Sound of Metal layered and nuanced performances and sound design make it an emotional experience while highlighting a disability and one’s capability to cope and readjust. Showing that nothing truly holds us back!
Cinema is meant to reflect reality and offer perspective. In Sound of Metal, we are offered a soulful and passionate depiction of life through the ears of the impaired. With a bravura Riz Ahmed performance and revolutionary sound design, the film removes any hints for the dramatic and tells a story that’s deeply rooted in reality. Someone cue Charles Bradley’s rendition of “Changes”.
Sound of Metal follows heavy metal drummer, Ruben Stone, as he reanalyses his life with the rapid deterioration of his hearing abilities. Starting from the opening scene, Ruben is introduced as a focused talent that’s very comfortable with his current life circumstances. Living simply in his and his girlfriend, Lou’s, RV the pair travel the country performing as a heavy metal duo. From the start, you are immersed in Ruben’s world. Not just narrative-wise, but audibly. Throughout the film, we share ears with Ruben, getting first-hand impressions of his impairment. The director, Darius Marder, navigates silence with absolute precision.
To simulate deafness, we are plunged into this constant ambiance that feels atmospheric yet so isolated. As a drummer, Ruben feels pulses and beats. This simulates a verbal disconnect but an emotional reconciliation with his new circumstances. Marder captures the explosions of ecstasy that Ruben finds when he is comforted by people that share his condition. We see this in how he interacts with his peers in the deaf community and the hope that he can beat his challenges. With the upsides, Marder captures the lows with a unique dramatic richness. Coupled with his incapability to communicate like he used to, Ruben comes with repressed woes that come with being a recovering addict.
We see the manic of the human psyche, along with the subtle strokes of personality. Drama implies of artificial nature, in that it’s fake. But the film achieves a level of reality that’s emotional and melancholic in such a grounded way. I can’t describe this film as dramatic, I can only find two words: Realistic and soulful. It’s telling in the way joy is displayed by some characters, melancholy in others. Despite the wide aspect ratio, Marder displays a graceful intimacy. Every shot acts as a portrait for analysis, effectively giving space to the actors to truly live as their characters.
It’s the heightened attention to the principal figure, that makes Sound of Metal such a compelling watch. A complex individual like Ruben is brought to shining life by a powerful performance from Riz Ahmed. This film only reinforces the sentiment that Ahmed can take the role of any character you throw his way. For a film that utilizes silence in such a profound way, Ahmed understands how to navigate emotion with the restriction of verbal contact and unspoken thoughts. Through facial expression and action, the “Venom” star conveys an array of sensations with his ability to display the inner conflict Ruben experiences.
Paul Raci gives an accompanying performance that’s layered and masterfully nuanced. A subtle performance that defines the phrase “a kind heart”. Sound of Metal understands the gravity of its own subject matter and handles it with grace and precision. It’s the balance of hopeful joy and underlying desolation that gives way for some compelling performances and storytelling, heightened by its sound design. An emotional ride meant to be experienced in solitude and in one sitting.
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