A heavy-metal drummer’s life is thrown into freefall when he begins to lose his hearing.
Despite several strong performances on both the big and small screens, Riz Ahmed is an actor that still feels like he goes under the radar, however it looks like ‘Sound of Metal’ is finally set to change that. This film, from director Darius Marder, tells the story of a drummer who loses his hearing and is forced to confront the impact that has on him and his lifestyle. It is a real showcase for Ahmed who is absolutely terrific in the leading role, and after ‘The Father’, is the second Oscar nominated film this year that attempts to depict a condition or disability from the viewpoint of the individual affected.
Ruben Stone (Ahmed) is a drummer for the band Blackgammon, a metal duo that he plays in alongside singer and girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke). He’s a recovering addict and has rebuilt his life over the past five years, however he finds himself starting to lose his hearing and despite warnings from a doctor, he continues performing. My stomach was in knots for the first 30 minutes watching Ruben continue to make choices that would worsen his condition and I felt Marder and Ahmed did a superb job of ratcheting up the tension even as we know what the outcome is likely to be. As his hearing worsens, Ruben is referred to a shelter for deaf recovering addicts, ran by a man named Joe, in a frankly outstanding performance from Paul Raci, an actor who I am reliably informed didn’t have a Wikipedia page prior to this. From this point onwards the film turns into an exploration of who Ruben is and who he wants to be as a person – can he leave the addictive past behind and accept who he is now, or will he continue to strive to return to what he had? It’s a complex question and I felt ‘Sound of Metal’ explored it in a nuanced way.
It isn’t exactly a surprise that the sound design is incredibly well done in ‘Sound of Metal’, particularly in the way it uses it to show how Ruben experiences the world vs how those will full hearing capability experience the world. I found it incredibly immersive and I thought it did a really good job of showing how the deaf community are forced to alter how they interact with the world and with other people. Last year, Riz Ahmed appeared in a film called ‘Mogul Mowgli’ which was about a British-Pakistani rapper that also explored themes of identity through a musician and in many respects its remarkably similar to ‘Sound of Metal’ and would work very well as a companion piece.
Unlike many previous Oscar nominated films about characters with disabilities, ‘Sound of Metal’ doesn’t patronise the audience (a bigger plus point than it should be) and I felt Ruben’s journey was believably depicted through Ahmed’s performance. I could relate to how he reacts to his fate and the choices he is forced to make were genuinely as tough to watch for me as it was for him to make. Losing one of my sights is one of my biggest fears so the terror of Ruben’s journey felt very real, but what ‘Sound of Metal’ does well is that it shows that there is a future after hearing loss and you can continue to live a full life, without sugarcoating the clear changes that you would need to make. This is a really strong film in what is turning out to be a pretty strong year so far – just a shame it wasn’t possible to watch this in a cinema!
Directed By: Darius Marder
Starring: Riz Ahmed, Olivia Cooke, Paul Raci, Lauren Ridloff, Mathieu Amalric and Chelsea Lee