Dan’s review published on Letterboxd:
I got around to this one a bit late, but fuck it imma review it anyway!
First and foremost, this film’s success is indebted to Riz Ahmed and his authentic, heart-wrenching, magnetic performance. We see good performances all the time in terms of conveying emotion and feeling real - but this is a different type of performance. This is one that plants you so firmly in the shoes of someone whose life is vastly different to your own (unless you’re deaf) that you truly do feel like you’ve walked a mile in them.
In fact, all of the performances here are solid. Olivia Cooke, while not present throughout the whole runtime, is great in the scenes she gets, and her chemistry with Ahmed makes for a very believable and likeable couple.
But I also must touch on Paul Raci, who shines bright in every scene he’s in. He oozes a warm, comforting presence in a world that can be so cold and hostile. He actually grew up with deaf parents in real life which explains how he seems so at one with this world. I truly loved his performance and he could’ve easily won Best Supporting Actor.
Of course Sound of Metal has another trick up it’s sleeve; the use (or lack thereof) of audio. Honestly this entire movie could’ve just been one big gimmick, and I imagine when it was being pitched, Darius Marder leant on this idea heavily. It’s easy to see why, as it’s a brilliant idea (it evokes other recent films like Hush and A Quiet Place, only I’d argue it feels the least gimmicky of all three). Whether that’s down to the fact you actually care about these characters, because the film is full of substance, or because the audio tricks are used cleverly and somewhat sparingly, I don’t know, but before I watched it I was worried it might be a one-trick pony, and I’m very glad to say I was wrong.
What’s also very clever about the use of audio is - not only does it cut in and out to position you in different characters’ headspaces - but it also uses the same “tricks” in different places in the movie, that have a completely different effect because of the context. For instance, the way Ruben first experiences deafness is this Earth-shattering, life-altering event, but later on this same silence is used to illustrate calm, peace and tranquility. And it does this with no words used.
The only real issue I have is that throughout the film I kept on wondering, ‘Why can he (and Joe) still talk perfectly?’ - I’ve known a couple of deaf people in my life and - in the least insensitive way possible - they sounded deaf. When you can’t hear your own voice, it does have an effect and you end up kind of slurring your words and speaking a bit more clumsily.
That, and I felt like the pacing was a bit erratic at times. In particular when Ruben is learning sign language, it felt like it skipped over a lot very fast.
Still, these are minor criticisms in a movie that really made me think and changed my perspective somewhat, as well as tackling a difficult subject matter and using the medium to its full potential in order to tell its story.