Saturday 20 November 2021

Movie Review: Sound Of Metal (2019)

A drama about loss, Sound Of Metal bores into the psyche of one man confronting the sudden on-set of a life changing condition.

Recovering drug addict Ruben (Riz Ahmed) is a drummer for a two-person heavy metal band, supporting his girlfriend and lead singer Lou (Olivia Cooke). While they are on a club tour living and traveling in an RV, Ruben experiences sudden severe hearing loss. A doctor advises the hearing will not naturally come back, an operation to install implants would cost up to $80,000, and Ruben should focus on preserving the little hearing he has left. 

Through a friend's referral Ruben reluctantly joins a commune for deaf recovering addicts run by Vietnam War veteran Joe (Paul Raci), while Lou departs to Paris where her father lives. Joe encourages Ruben to accept deafness, learn sign language, and volunteer with deaf kids. Ruben does make progress, but he remains full of concealed anger and intent on securing funds for the operation to restore his hearing.

A story of profound misfortune, Sound Of Metal is one character's journey into the unthinkable. Director Darius Marder co-wrote the script with Derek Cianfrance, and keeps the focus on a far-from-perfect man pushed into yet another crisis. The film is intimate, sometimes frustratingly constrained, and powered by the coiled rage of a restless Riz Ahmed performance.

The abrupt onset of deafness is all the more devastating because Ruben's life was on the upswing. Clean from drugs and even smoking, on a successful club tour, and devoted to his true love Lou, the worst seemed to be behind him. Now the loss of hearing drops a boulder on burgeoning optimism. It's no surprise that denial is Ruben's strongest response, followed by fixating on a short-cut bring-back-the-past solution without researching the implications.

The script railroads Ruben into a long episode on Joe's peculiar commune, where accepting deafness and thriving anyway is the laudable goal, but the rules designed for addicts don't always appear conducive to dealing with recent trauma. Here Marder explores the difference between the silence imposed and the value of elusive meditative stillness, and the narrative loses its way. The second act is only partially successful as a foundation for a reintegration and reunion where reality and recognition start to take hold.

The sound design is superlative, conveying Ruben's hearing difficulties with stunning impact. The concert roar of aggressive drums and Lou's forceful vocals yields to the disorienting inability to hear, only for the consequences of cochlear implant surgery to throw another wrench. Within its limited scope, The Sound Of Metal achieves hushed immersion.

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