Films about disabilities seem to pop up around the time of year we refer to as “Awards Season.” These types of films usually offer actors the chance to really shine in their craft, as they work to interpret the disadvantages their characters are going through, while still keeping them relatable to audiences. In the new film, Sound of Metal, out this week on Amazon Prime Video, the loss of hearing is the ailment. And while the story has a few new wrinkles to liven up the formula, the amazing performance of the lead is the true star here.
Sound of Metal is the story of Ruben Stone (Riz Ahmed), a drummer for a two-piece metal band called Blackgammon. He and his lead singer, Lou (Olivia Cooke), are on tour across the midwest when Ruben’s hearing suddenly leaves him. The predicament is devastating for the band, as the drummer is the backbeat of everything that happens in a performance, and if he can’t hear… let’s just say, the band is in trouble.
Ruben is also a recovering heroin addict, adding a new layer to his complexity. Lou, fearing what he might do to himself because of his hearing loss, reaches out to his sponsor, who sets Ruben up at a small deaf community for addicts, and then she bolts, leaving the drummer alone in this new world he can barely comprehend.
Ruben remains focused on an expensive surgery to correct his hearing, even though Joe (Paul Raci), the leader of his community, tries to teach him that being deaf isn’t as much a disability as it is another hurdle in life that must be mastered. Ruben begins to settle in and adapt, but the call of the rock and roll lifestyle grows louder each day, forcing him to make a decision that will change everything.
Sound of Metal does an outstanding job of highlighting what it means to lose ones hearing and how society is set up to deal with it. In many ways, Ruben acts as a tour guide through this often overlooked ailment, giving the audience an intimate exploration of what happens when the world goes quiet.
Ahmed (HBO’s The Night Of; Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) is outstanding as Ruben. There were plenty of times in this script when he could have taken the character in a different direction, or even play it too safe, but Ahmed balances the conjunction of his two worlds with his skill as an actor, inviting the audience along on his journey.
Cooke (Ready Player One) does what she can with the character of Lou, a complex person in her own right. Lou spends the majority of the film on the sidelines, serving best as a brass ring for Ruben. This prevents Cooke from developing the character into a more rounded partner for Ahmed to work off of.
Sound of Metal was written by brothers Darius and Abraham Marder, based off a story by Derek Cianfrance. Darius Marder also directs, while Abraham supplies the original music. The script quickly gets away from the rock ‘n roll tropes that could have made this a completely different film.
Instead, the Marders use this story to give credence to the work being done in deaf communities, including education and inclusion. The film’s heart beats loudest when the story is focused on Ruben settling into that community — and his new life.
Sound of Metal offers viewers an uncompromising look at the world of the deaf through the journey of its lead, and it shines brightest when exploring that subject matter. There is an amazing level of hope on display in this film, which touches the heart. Where the story fails is in the relationship between Ruben and Lou, as their union was seemingly based on the music, and when the music fades to silence, so does their heat.
This doesn’t take away from all the good that the film offers, but it’s far from a complete package. That said, a brilliant performance by Riz Ahmed overcomes any of the film’s minor shortcomings, and that alone is worth a watch.
Sound of Metal is rated R and is available on Amazon Prime Video and select theaters starting on December 4, 2020. Images courtesy of Amazon Studios.
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