Runtime: 120 minutes
Director: Darius Marder
Writers: Darius Marder, Abraham Marder, Derek Cianfrance
Actors: Riz Ahmed, Olivia Cooke, Paul Raci, Mathieu Amalric, Lauren Ridloff, Chelsea Lee
By Joan Amenn
Remember what it was like to go to a concert? “Sound of Metal” is a love letter to musicians and the intoxication of live performances. Ruben Stone (Riz Ahmed) and his girlfriend Lulu (Olivia Cooke) are living the life of nomads as they travel on tour in their aging RV. Life is good and very, very loud until Ruben finds he can no longer hear. A similar injury was referenced in “A Star is Born” (2018) but this film focuses on the male musician rather than the female singer.
The choices made in the sound editing combined with Ahmed’s riveting performance translate into a truly harrowing experience of what it is like to become impaired. Even the most trivial of noise, such as the rustle of leaves or footsteps on a stair become precious as we see Ruben struggle to hold himself back from despair. He is desperate to raise money for cochlear implants so that he can return to normalcy, but it won’t be easy. Ahmed is heartbreaking as a man whose life was dedicated to sound, now groping for meaning as that foundation slips out from under him. Paul Raci plays Joe, a counselor who tries to “tough love” Ruben into accepting that “deafness is not something that needs to be fixed.” If he were anything other than a musician, Ruben might have found the serenity, or “stillness” as Joe calls it, to accept this. “Sound of Metal” does not trivialize Ruben’s struggle but it also represents the deaf in a respectful and considerate way not often depicted in film. Director Darius Marder does not shy away from bringing the audience into their world with most of the cast using ASL or “signing” to communicate with each other.
The final half hour of the film is slightly disappointing with some obvious plot holes that mar an otherwise solid script. Olivia Cooke is not given much character development but we learn enough about Lulu to know that she and Ruben are both broken people who found each other when they were most in need. Their love story is poignant and genuine. “Sound of Metal” is not perfect but it is a moving insight into a silent world rarely captured so authentically.