Sound of Metal

Sound of Metal ★★★★

When Riz Ahmed's Ruben first loses his hearing in Sound of Metal, he goes to a doctor who tells him the hearing he's lost? It's gone. It's never coming back. Ruben shouldn't worry about reviving what is already lost, but instead, he should work on salvaging what he can and moving forward. Ruben plays drums in a band, which probably at least worsened his hearing. He can't go back. He can't take better care of his ears. The past has past and all that's left is the future.

Sound of Metal is about reconciling with the past, accepting that, and allowing yourself the chance to go ahead rather than living in the past. As an addict, Ruben also knows that, but it's still hard for him to remember what he once had and wish he could get it back. Sound of Music is continuously reminding the audience in often subtle ways the impact the past has on our present. We can see the past reflected even in the skin of Ruben, covered with tattoos, or in the scratches on the arm of his girlfriend Lou, played by Olivia Cooke. The past is difficult to avoid, as its ramifications are everywhere.

In a way, Sound of Metal is an extremely important film for 2020, as we've all dealt with living in a completely new way. Sound of Metal was made long before the pandemic, but that discussion of changing the way one gets through the day out of necessity resonates strongly this year.

Yet director and co-writer Darius Marder sets up these characters so well that he knows where we think this film is going, and subverts those expectations. I won't spoil where Sound of Metal goes, but it certainly zigged when I thought it would zag multiple times, and I'm glad for that uncertainty.

But Marder also makes Sound of Metal a story of self-discovery, of learning from mistakes and evolving one's way of thinking, an impressive love story, and in some ways, a story of the opportunities life hands us that we avoid to follow our own path. Sound of Metal is doing a lot, and it succeeds in all these aspects.

That's mostly because of a remarkable trio of performances, led by Riz Ahmed, who is just mind-blowing. The same is true of Paul Raci, especially in his final scene where he is pushed to his emotional breaking point. But I'm also pleasantly surprised by Olivia Cooke, who I've always liked, yet never seen her at this level before. The way she carries herself throughout this film speaks volumes about where she is in her life and what is best for her and Ruben.

It's also impossible not to mention the sound design here, which truly puts us in the ears of Ruben. Part of me almost wishes Sound of Metal went slightly further, maybe even making the majority of the film silent to really allow us an even deeper glimpse into what Ruben is experiencing. That being said, what is being done with the sound here is integral to making this story work.

Sound of Metal is so much more than I expected it to be, and I'm glad that Marder is attempting as much as he is here, and avoiding the traps that a simpler screenplay would take. Very impressed by Marder's debut fiction film, the three performances that are some of the year's best, and a film that subverted was I was expecting over and over again.