Martin Velev’s review published on Letterboxd:
Opens with drummer Ruben (Riz Ahmed) performing at his metal band’s concert opposite his girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke)—the vocalist of the band. Ruben wakes up early the next day to complete his everyday routine. We hear the mixer, the coffee machine, his hand cleaning the DJ set. Some days after that, Ruben wakes up again. He follows his routine to a T; however, this time the noises are distorted. Some moments after that, close-to-complete silence engulfs his ears. A musician becomes deaf.
In an evocative two-sided POV, Sound of Metal contrasts the viewer’s hearing with Ruben’s. During a long shot of Ruben walking down the street, we hear the usual—the revving cars, the pedestrians’ steps, the wind. We shift to a medium close-up of Ruben’s body, and we hear the unusual—the scraping version of all the aforementioned sounds. These simple but poignant audible contrasts lay the grounds for a beautiful film. A film stuffed with so much emotional intensity whereby the viewer ends up a mucus-covered, tear-embellished being. But the mucus and the tears are enjoyable because the film gives us a new purpose—the fact that having a medical handicap doesn’t mean having a life-appreciating handicap. Sound of Metal attempts that but instead of an amalgamation of mucus and tears, the viewer has to brush away the disappointment off their face.
The characters’ roles in the narrative are mundane. When the doctor tells him to stay away from any loud noises, Ruben continues to play at concerts. When his AA mentor sends Ruben to the place for deaf recovering addicts, Ruben wants to go back to his life as a musician. So, how’s he gonna end up there and “start his journey”? Through series of dull dialogue scenes—à la “Yeah, no…Yeah, thank you, much appreciated”—Lou dragoons Ruben to go back to the place for deaf recovering addicts, worried that he’ll begin to use again. And that’s her character’s only purpose. When the movements on the chess board are so apparent, the magic of the game evaporates.
Indeed, the film offers some inspiring moments. Ruben and a deaf child bond as they “communicate” through the vibrations of each other’s “drumming” on the slide, the competitive games they play during the Sign Language lessons—for example, who can gesticulate the alphabet the fastest—and the various discussions on sexuality Ruben and a deaf lesbian have represent the film’s intelligently subtle instruments to depict the normality of a deaf person’s life. When Sound of Metal goes sermonising, however, it all goes wrong. Toxically determined to hear again, Ruben sells his RV to purchase the cochlear implant processors. Thereafter, he goes to Joe (Paul Raci)—the man who runs the deaf community for recovering addicts—and asks him for money to buy his RV back. Well, number one, Ruben could’ve asked him to pay for the implants; it’s the same amount of money, and number two, Ruben knows that the community has no money since it’s funded by the local parish. So, what can be the actual point of this nonsensical request? To artificially accentuate the theme with a patronising (also known as non-subtle) monologue from Joe about how deaf people shouldn’t consider themselves handicapped. The content of his words and the way the whole scene is executed illuminates the screenwriters’ underestimation of the audience. Mostly being a visual medium, cinema teaches morals through images successfully enough—as the film subtly does—so the viewer doesn’t need a lecturing hammer straight in the face. In this way, the theme’s metaphorical side barely seeps to the surface: when “normally functioning” people have to deal with a life-changing problem, they are so obsessed with getting their lives back that they start acting like addicts. Ruben’s “I need money, please give me money” dwindles the power of the premise, which—on its own—is brilliant.
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