Movie #81 2021: Sound of Metal (2019)

There’s no doubt about it, the 2010s saw a meteoric rise for Riz Ahmed. First bursting onto the scene in British comedy Four Lions, Ahmed went on to star in Nightcrawler and Star War: Rogue One all in the same decade, making him a pretty recognisable face amongst the ever-growing list of Hollywood movie stars. With Sound of Metal however, he takes a step back into lower budget, character-driven filmmaking, and boy, it’s a corker.

Sound of Metal is based on the story of a drummer who begins to lose his hearing mainly due to the fact that he doesn’t protect his ears when playing. We follow him through the anguish and a full range of emotions that come with slowly losing the ability to hear, as his character Ruben joins a deaf community in an attempt to learn to live without sound. His main goal, however? To raise enough money so he can get treatment for audio implants that will hopefully help him hear again.

Has there ever been a more obvious Best Sound Mixing nominee/winner? The answer is nope. You’d think that this is a movie about drumming first and foremost before watching it, and you couldn’t be more incorrect. Remember when Whiplash won the Academy Award for sound mixing? That was about a drummer too. In actual fact, the two films could not be more different, and drumming takes a complete backseat to the themes of acceptance and the emotions that come with the initial trauma of losing ones hearing in this movie. As a result, the sound mixing is completely unique and really very little to do with the act of drumming itself but rather the ensuring that the viewer hears exactly what Ruben hears. And it’s extremely well done.

Possibly the most essential part of this film’s success is Riz Ahmed’s performance. Thankfully, whilst he’s great in every film I’ve seen him in, this is undoubtedly his best work, and it convincingly showcases the way he performs feelings of anxiety, strength and frustration with apparent ease. 

Alongside Ahmed’s stellar performance of a character who is often not very likeable, there’s a complete, touching story at the heart of it. What’s so brilliant about the script itself is that it never romanticises deafness, but presents the sense of community within deaf circles as something to be celebrated. My only issue with the writing was that it’s a little lengthy, but then we all know how I feel about long movies, so that’s my bias to bear. However, there are some really wonderful, hopeful sequences within it that will get you through the scenes that are tougher to watch. 

With sound and story taking the starring roles, it’s probably quite easy to overlook how well Sound of Metal is framed and shot. The logistics of making sure the audience is able to see everything they need to see extremely technical but perfectly done here. For instance, when Ruben first embarks on learning some sign language, director Darius Marder frames the ASL teacher, the computer screen and Ruben himself so precisely in order for us to see everything that’s going on. It’s masterfully done even when the action on screen is very quiet and still.

Again, I do feel as though some editing adjustments could have been made to shorten this, specifically with the scenes that are set outside the deaf community setting. (Although Olivia Cooke really is great in her role, the sequences in France later on were dragged out a little bit too much in my opinion.)

Regardless, it’s extremely well put together and Ahmed’s powerful yet sensitive performance will keep you interested throughout. This is certainly one to watch in the Oscars race.

Sound of Metal is available to stream from April 12th on Amazon Prime Video in the UK.

TQR Category Ratings:

Performance: 
Cinematography: 
Soundtrack: 
Costume & Set Design: 
Plot: 
Overall Rating: ½

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