Now showing on Amazon Prime.
Based on an unfinished film called Metalhead is Darius Marder’s directorial debut, written alongside his brother Abraham, Sound of Metal. Ruben (Riz Ahmed) and Lou (Olivia Cooke) are a young couple, whose relationship rescued him from destructive addiction, tour in thier Airstream mobile home performing as “jobbing” metal band Blackgammon. However when one morning Ruben awakes to find he has lost his hearing they find their plans for the band in ruins and Ruben desperately searching for a way to cope and get his hearing back. This leads him to moving into a deaf community run by Joe (Paul Raci) where he learns about deafness, himself and life.
This is an incredible piece of film making as Marder and his sound designer Nicolas Becker create a world that immerses you in Ruben’s trauma. The sound is a hugely important part of the story, moving seamlessly between the noise of the everyday world, beautifully done in an early scene in the RV where you hear every detail as Ruben makes breakfast, and, by cleverly using distortion, into his new one as his hearing diminishes.
The sound and performances of Cooke and particularly Riz Ahmed create an almost claustrophobic environment, especially during the opening act, as you feel Ruben’s desperation as deafness envelopes his world. In an inspired directorial touch when Ruben joins the deaf community where signing is crucial, those signed conversations are left uncaptioned for the audience, allowing us to experience his isolation and helplessness in trying to understand the world around him.
The film does move slowly and isn’t so much a story but an exploration of Ruben’s experience. Perhaps inevitably the intensity of its first half falls away a little in the second. However, the final act of the film is as powerful as its beginning as both Ruben and Lou discover some painful truths about their experience and whether thier choices are the right ones for them.
Sound of Metal is an excellent piece of film making and while it doesn’t follow a standard story arc it doesn’t have to. This is more about the experience of addiction, desperation and loss, than story.
For Ahmed’s performance and the incredible use of sound, the world it builds and the experience it creates, Sound of Metal is well worth a watch.