AFI FEST REVIEW: SOUND OF METAL (2020)

Riz Ahmed in ‘Sound of Metal’

“You’re right, Ruben. The world does keep moving, and it can be a damn cruel place. But for me, those moments of stillness, that place, that’s the Kingdom of God. And that place will never abandon you.”

Let me ask you a hypothetical: you’re able to achieve your dreams — maybe you’re even able to make money doing what you love. Or maybe you’re just really talented at a certain aspect in your life. No need to get paid, it just brings you joy. Now imagine that’s taken away from you in a split second. You’re life begins to unravel, and you fall apart. Sound of Metal paints a heart-breaking picture of a young man who believes he has lost it all after a debilitating diagnosis.

Sound of Metal tells the story of Ruben (Riz Ahmed) a drummer for a metal/experimental band he plays in alongside his girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke). They live in their simple, but cozy, RV and travel around the country playing indie rock shows. Now as they finally begin to achieve real success, including a debut album, Ruben begins to hear a ringing in his ears. The ringing gets louder — the world around him now filtered through a heavy muffle. Ruben pounds his ears, opens his mouth wide, and does the cliché tricks of trying to pop his ears. The sound around him gets quieter. And after a gig, Ruben loses his hearing completely. His life is turned on its end, leaving him to come to terms with his new life of being deaf.

First and foremost, I’m not a crier. I don’t cry at movies. But after watching Sound of Metal twice, I might add, I’ll say it hit me… hard. I found myself openly weeping. As a woman who has long dealt with a disability, I remember that moment of being diagnosed, changing my life, and my future dreams, forever. As I write this, I’m getting a bit emotional. However, that’s a story for another time. It’s a hard thing to imagine, if you haven’t been through it, or haven’t seen a love one go through it — things quickly taken away from you. But in a complex character like Ruben, a man who is faced with letting go of his dreams, Ahmed is the best person to convey the harsh reality of this new diagnosis.

Ahmed is the beating heart of the story. Sound of Metal cannot progress without his presence on screen. His performance is riveting — you simply cannot take your eyes off him. The emotional rollercoaster that comes with being diagnosed with something new, is on full display. There’s a scene, no dialogue, where Ruben must come to terms with his new situation. He sits there, quietly at first, but soon screams into the void — smashing his fist on the table. I never found his performance to be melodramatic or even over the top. Ahmed is perfection. It’s his performance that will ravage your soul as you watch it. Your heart aches for him. And although Ahmed is nearly in the entire film, you still want more of this performance.

Ahmed’s fellow cast members are great, accurately portraying the lives of those who are unable to hear the world around them. The highlight, along with Ahmed, is Paul Raci as Joe, the man overseeing a commune for adults who are deaf. What a fabulous supporting performance. The intimate moments between Raci and Ahmed are incredibly moving, that I find myself getting chills while thinking about it. There’s also Cooke, whose small role makes a strong impact whenever she is on screen. Lou is Ruben’s compass, his constant. She’s always at the center of Ruben’s heart and mind.

I can go on and on about the greatness of Sound of Metal. And while the acting is a large part of that, I have to give some love to writer and director Darius Marder. Marder’s direction is the glue of the film. The most important directing aspect was the sensitivity and compassion he has for this world. He handles the story with care, and gives us audience members a glimpse into what these people are go through on a daily basis, but never too much as to be disrespectful. Marder’s screenplay is brilliant. Sheer brilliance!

I almost didn’t get around seeing Sound of Metal at the AFI Fest. I don’t know if it was the small synopsis I read, or my respect for Ahmed’s acting, but something drew me to it. I have spent the last couple of weeks reviewing festival films, and I will publish more in the coming weeks. But I will tell you this, Sound of Metal is by far my favorite. This polarizing film is one that should be seen by anyone and everyone. Sound of Metal puts that bug in your ear that maybe we should all appreciate and be thankful for the little things we have in our life, because one day it may all be gone.

Sound of Metal

Written and Directed by: Darius Marder

Starring: Riz Ahmed, Olivia Cooke, and Paul Raci

Rating: