“Sound of Metal” is a gripping and wrenching film as much about the addiction of ego and performance as it is about a man struggling with a new disability. In a sequence of scenes, sharp and brief, directed by Darius Marder, we meet a man who lives for the energy of a crowd and is pushed to the breaking point by circumstances seemingly beyond his control.
Ruben (Riz Ahmed) is in a punk band called Blackgammon, appearing in small clubs. He is a drummer who loves the push of adrenaline. With his girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke), who is the vocalist, he spends day after day on the road. Ruben is often sweaty and driven. He is covered in tattoos. One in particular reads Please Kill Me.
During a stretch of gigs, when Ruben is planning a tour and hoping for a record deal, his drumming is ever so slightly off. He dismisses it but then feels a throbbing pressure in his ear accompanied by a steady high pitched whine that won’t seem to go away. Ruben becomes punchy and irritable but makes an ear appointment after an exasperating visit to the pharmacist. The doctor tells him that he is losing his hearing and there is not much he can do as the condition and cause is uncertain. Ruben seethes with a new anger and impatience.
Ruben tells Lou that his drumming must continue but she nervously says no and is adamant.
Seeking information, the pair visit a retreat for the deaf and question Joe (Paul Raci) the supervisor of the center. Surrounded by what he perceives as mere small talk, the hyperactive musician loses his temper. Ruben proceeds to destroy their mobile home and Lou orders him to check back into the retreat. With no other option, the drummer consents.
This is arguably Riz Ahmed’s best performance. He completely embodies Ruben from head to toe and his very muscles ripple in anxiety and tension. Ruben’s eyes appear to be screwed into his head.
Paul Raci is excellent as the philosophical head of the retreat who refuses to entertain any selfish or petty considerations. Confronted by Ruben’s sorrowful pleas, he becomes an immoveable sphinx.
Olivia Cooke delivers another solid outing as Lou who will always love the tortured Ruben, while the iconic French actor Mathieu Almaric is Lou’s nonchalant father.
This is a fine affecting film about a man who more often than not, refuses to accept his new reality.
Will Ruben accept his condition or employ expensive technology (becoming a David Bowie spaceman) to possibly hear again and risk being cut off from those who can hear perfectly and his new friends in the deaf community?
The film vividly illustrates what it might be like to be hearing impaired with wondrous sound editing. It also includes real actors who are deaf, including Raci and Chelsea Lee.
Ultimately, “Sound of Metal” is not just about a man losing his hearing, but about one unwilling to take a chance on himself, embracing patience and discovering what is within.
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