Darius Marder’s Sound Of Metal first premiered at Toronto International Film Festival all the way back in 2019, which in these times feels like a small lifetime ago. Throughout the 2021 awards season, it has become a black horse of sorts, rather surprisingly but fully deservedly receiving nominations left, right and centre, especially for stars Riz Ahmed and Paul Raci, both of whom nabbed Oscar nominations as well. And no wonder, as this is a potent, remarkable showcase for all involved.
Sound Of Metal follows Ruben Stone (Ahmed), a passionate drummer who all of a sudden, out of nowhere, rapidly starts losing his hearing. Ruben is desperate to get himself cochlear implants but can’t afford them. Instead, Ruben’s sponsor Hector finds him a shelter for deaf recovering addicts, but Ruben is hesitant to accept the offer and stop performing with his girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke).
Marder, who wrote the story with Derek Cianfrance, and the final script with his brother Abraham Marder, directs Sound Of Metal with a firm hand. From the first frames, it’s a remarkably confident film, and it’s particularly strong in its first half when it directly deals with Ruben’s acute hearing loss. It’s tragic and it never undermines the trauma of what Ruben is going through, but his condition is also treated with empathy and understanding.
Ahmed is predictably exceptional and awe-inspiring. He communicates Ruben’s growing fear, frustration and anger believably and with nuance. His scenes are laced with complex emotions; Ruben is never experiencing just one emotion but all of them, navigating his new life void of sound.
Raci, who plays the man running the shelter is such a warm and comforting presence on screen. Whereas Ahmed is often fraught and turns inwards with his performance, Raci is calm and collected, loving even. Cooke is equally impressive in her much smaller role, but she shares great chemistry with Ahmed and their on-screen relationship has plenty of passion and sparks.
The true star of Sound Of Metal is its impeccable and detailed sound design. The silence experienced by Ruben is overwhelming and deafening, while the simple sounds of the beginning, from Ruben’s drums to small, everyday noises feel familiar and almost extraordinary by the way they’re emphasised. The film is presented with subtitles by design, to help the audience experience the film as authentically as possible. As a whole, Sound Of Metal is incredibly immersive cinematic experience.
Sound Of Metal only falters when it struggles to fill up its 2-hour runtime in the middle. Sound Of Metal began life as a documentary project and was supposed to be made by Cinafrance himself who then offered it to Marder as a fictitious feature film. Some of that documentary feel still lives in the film’s DNA and it at times slows the film down when it just observes Ruben’s new life.
Daniël Bouquet’s cinematography is fluid and every frame is filled with life. Bouquet’s hand-held camera often just follows Ruben and the other characters, getting up and close to them. This is a film that would look and sound brilliant on the big screen, but the human emotion is the real draw here and will work even on a smaller screen.
While Sound Of Metal is flawed, Riz Ahmed’s remarkable performance as Ruben as well as the film’s inspired sound design make this one of the year’s best films.
Sound Of Metal streams on Amazon Prime Video on April 12 and will be released in UK cinemas May 17.