Sound of Metal

Sound of Metal ★★★★½

I’ve been thinking a lot about why I like the music and movies I like. One thing I almost always come back to with regards to my favorite songs is a strong quiet/loud dynamic. When I was younger I exclusively gravitated towards loud songs, but near the end of my teens I discovered there was nothing quite like the thrill I get from a quiet song suddenly being enveloped by noise, or a logorrheic outburst suddenly getting deflated by an ocean of calm. This quickly led me to a new-found appreciation for the 90s grunge scene and all bands that followed in their footsteps, and eventually the bands that inspired them. Which brought me to Pixies, whose ”Gouge Away” is probably the finest example of a quiet/loud song and maybe what I’d name as my all-time favorite song with a gun to my head.

But really the examples I could name are near-infinite. I’ve recently been having a bit of A Moment with regards to Smashing Pumpkins “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness”, which is maybe the dictionary definition of an album that sometimes Just Hits, and I’ve listened to the moment where that album’s centerpiece ”Porcelina of the Vast Oceans” goes from its twinkling piano intro to James Iha and Billy Corgan unleashing an ethereal wall of noise more these past few weeks than I’ve listened to some songs in their entirety. And of course there’s LCD Soundsystem, who I can’t seem to stop referencing in these write-ups, who are also masters of this dynamic, despite having very little to do with grunge or guitar music in general. The beat drop in ”Dance Yrself Clean” might be the moment in all of music that gives me the biggest serotonin boost.

All of which is to say that Darius Marder’s SOUND OF METAL is like a cinematic 121-minute album of nothing but quiet/loud songs. So of course I loved it. Much have already been made of the film’s amazing sound mix, so I can’t really do anything but underline how incredible it is, but all of the praise has been richly deserved. The way the film takes you into the main character Ruben’s deteriorating hearing and subsequent state of mind by shifting from what sort of sound we’re hearing on the drop of a hat, some times multiple times within the same scene, is extraordinary. Even though this is a deeply felt, very sincere and emotional movie the shifting sound dynamics still gave me that same rapturous feeling I get from those aforementioned songs, which is maybe the highest praise I can give.

And also definitely the only reason this resonated with me so much. The fact that I have an (extremely) mild case of tinnitus and going deaf is one of my biggest fears which made the first twenty minutes of this play like a horror movie definitely has absolutely nothing to do with why I was on the verge of tears for the entire running time, no sir, move along there’s nothing to see here.

But even all personal baggage aside, this is just an amazing piece of filmmaking. Never preachy or generic, but always raw and clearly personal. The central performances are all amazing too. Riz Ahmed’s evolution from British rapper making controversial, sardonic tongue-in-cheek songs about 9/11 (that honestly slap) to one of his generation’s greatest actors has really been something to behold, and this is probably his finest work yet. Olivia Cooke gives a reliable and lived-in supporting performance, but the real star of the show is Paul Raci, who’s been deservedly nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar, that I truly hope he gets to win. His final scene is one of the most heartbreaking things I’ve seen in a movie lately and the way his absence hangs over the remaining scenes is something that would have been greatly diminished had a lesser actor played that part. Excellent third act deployment of a certain European character actor as well, I yelped when he showed up.

I am now kicking myself for skipping this when it played the IFFR early last year because the plot synopsis didn’t really hook me in, as it surely would’ve been an amazing experience on a big screen, but that it was still near-transcendent on my tv is testament to Marder’s filmmaking prowess. Here’s hoping I do get to see the next thing he does in theaters.

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