Riz Ahmed is outstanding. He gets to chew on the cathartic and compelling character study he’s long deserved. Prime/Sound of Metal
Sound of Metal is a transcendent film that happens to be deeply grounded. It feels revolutionary, weaving a profound rhythm into its quietest moments.
It stars Riz Ahmed as Ruben, a drummer for a metal band who discovers he’s rapidly losing his hearing and with it almost his entire way of living. Ruben fears he’ll no longer be able to perform and that he’ll lose his girlfriend, Olivia Cooke’s Lou, a source of stability in his life who tours with him. The path Ruben must undertake requires him to reevaluate his entire sense of self and identity.
Sound of Metal explores Deaf—with a capital D—community and culture in a way few other pieces of cinema have, breaking down prevailing notions outsiders might have. The richer reality, which the film taps into, is that the Deaf community is vast in background and beliefs. The film complicates the often leveled-down narrative of the community, exploding what life can be like for those who experience some form of deafness.
Ruben, a recovering addict, is exposed to a vibrant Deaf community when he goes to live in a sober living community at the behest of Lou. The cast is made up almost entirely of actors who are Deaf, hard of hearing, and CODA (Children of Deaf Adults). These aren’t just side characters; they’re crucial to the story.
There’s Joe, played by Paul Raci, who welcomes Ruben to the community and serves as a powerful force. There’s Diane, played by Lauren Ridloff (best known for her role in The Walking Dead), a teacher who works with Ruben and helps him learn how to sign. There’s Jenn, played by Chelsea Lee, who gets a standout humorous scene with Ruben where they design a tattoo together. The film is most alive during these small moments of connection.
Riz Ahmed is outstanding, showing growth through subtle shifts in physicality and expression. Ahmed is routinely great, but past stories have not always served him as well as he’s served them. Here, Ahmed gets to chew on the cathartic and compelling character study he’s long deserved.
We love Riz. Prime/Sound of Metal
That this is the debut film for writer-director Darius Marder is quite a first impression. The location is minimalist yet striking; the secluded environment’s stillness a visual metaphor executed with technical maturity. The sound design, which could have quickly fallen into being a caricature, manages to approximate the interiority of Ruben’s progressive deafness. The gradual use of ringing, from tinnitus to more expansive deafness, is done with care and respect.
But most significantly: Ahmed, whose vulnerability is a gift to witness. From moments of crisis to moments of stillness, there’s so much feeling that the film nearly bursts at its seams. The final shot, in particular, left me breathless. Seek out Sound of Metal. It’s one of the best experiences this year, rich in its joy and pain, captured with a masterful and compassionate touch.
You can stream Sound of Metal via Amazon Prime starting Friday, December 4.