"Sound of Metal" (2020)- Movie Review

Written and directed by Darius Marder
Co-written by Abraham Marder
Starring Riz Ahmed, Olivia Cooke and Paul Raci

‘A Powerful Disability Drama’

Hearing impairment is a debilitating disability that is rarely depicted in movies. Hollywood has long been criticized for upholding negative perceptions of deaf communities. It is not easy to create an authentic depiction of hearing loss on the big-screen. When telling stories of deaf people, filmmakers often fall prey to misjudged stereotypes. It is always so simple to portray deaf individuals as handicapped people that need support rather than showcase their resilience. Due to their insensitivity, these films often risk offending audiences that suffer from real-life disabilities. Consequently, it is rare to see realistic depictions of deafness on the big-screen.

In this regard, Darius Marder’s latest film “Sound of Metal” is an awe-inspiring achievement. An intimate, poignant and heartbreaking disability drama, it offers a sensitive look at the life of a deaf drummer. With his directorial debut, writer/director Darius Marder has crafted an enlightening account of the hardships faced by deaf musicians. Packed with impeccable production values, spellbinding storytelling and phenomenal performances, it is one of the best movies of the year. Although “Sound of Metal” is undeniably unforgettable, ultimately it is not a flawless film. It suffers from a slow pace that tests the viewer’s patience. Nonetheless, it offers therapeutic entertainment that will satisfy fans of arthouse Cinema.

Set in the heavy-metal industry, “Sound of Metal” tells the story of an artist that struggles to accept his hearing loss. Riz Ahmed stars in the leading role as Ruben Stone, an angst-ridden drummer that resolves to recover from drug addiction. Assisted by his affectionate girlfriend/bandmate Lou (Olivia Cooke), Ruben dedicates his life towards performing heavy-metal music. However, Ruben’s career comes to an abrupt halt when he suddenly loses his sense of hearing. As Ruben enters a rehab facility, he endeavors to adjust to a world of silence.

First-time filmmaker Darius Marder is a newcomer to the topic of hearing loss. Marder is an indie screenwriter that is best known for writing 2012’s “The Place Beyond the Pines”. “Sound of Metal”, however, marks his first directorial feature and foray into the marginalized lives of deaf musicians. It’s the filmmaker’s first attempt to humanize the struggles endured by deaf communities, but he pulls it off seamlessly. Using spellbinding cinematography, Marder draws viewers into the life of a tormented drummer that struggles to cope with hearing loss. From captivating close-ups to terrifying perspective shots, the cinematography keeps viewers immersed in the film’s small-scale setting. Working alongside cinematographer Daniël Bouquet, Marder creates a breathtaking movie in which each frame captures the horrors of hearing deterioration. Marder excels at immersing viewers into the distorted mindset of a disabled drummer, and his latest feature is worth watching on Amazon Prime for this reason alone.

If stories of hearing-impaired musicians do not attract your attention, though, there are still plenty of other reasons to see “Sound of Metal”. For a first-time filmmaker, Marder displays exceptional control of craftsmanship over the sound design, editing techniques and musical choices. Marder excels at using sound design to recreate the experience of hearing loss. Assisted by sound-designer Nicolas Becker, Marder effectively employs sounds to distinguish between Ruben’s mindset and the outer world. For instance, high-pitched frequencies are used to indicate the normal hearing world. In contrast, a muffled and disconcerting silence is used to immerse viewers into Ruben’s hearing deterioration. Moreover, the musical choices are also worth mentioning. Marder’s decision to employ no musical score is risky, but it works tremendously. The absence of music gives the movie a dark and mysterious atmosphere. Through extraordinary production values, Marder keeps viewers engrossed in a sensory soundscape.

Another admirable aspect of “Sound of Metal” is the screenplay. Marder’s greatest strength as a screenwriter is his ability to avoid the stereotypical clichés of disability dramas. In Hollywood, most disability dramas are driven by stereotypes and hinge heavily on caricatures to get their message across. Deaf individuals are often portrayed as helpless characters that need constant support and cannot function on their own. Thankfully, though, that is definitely not the case with “Sound of Metal”. Unlike most disability dramas, the film does not resort to false stereotypes. Instead, Marder asserts that deafness is not a handicap and should never be treated as such. This meaningful message is conveyed through Ruben’s character development as he goes from grieving his hearing loss to accepting his condition. Through this message, Marder creates a strong deaf character whom audiences can easily empathize with. It’s an inspirational portrayal of deafness that marks a refreshing departure from Hollywood’s usual treatment of the topic. Using an unconventional screenplay, Marder keeps viewers absorbed in the journey of a disabled musician.

It is hard to not praise the powerful performances from the cast. Marder’s decision to cast nonprofessional deaf actors over famous movie-stars pays off tremendously.

Riz Ahmed delivers his finest performance to date as Ruben Stone. Following his award-winning turn in “The Night Of”, Ahmed has proven to be a skillful actor with a knack for portraying wrongfully accused Muslims. With “Sound of Metal”, however, he takes on his most complex role to date. It is not easy to get into the mindset of an anxious drummer that is afflicted with hearing loss. It’s a demanding role that requires the actor to learn how to communicate through non-verbal sign-language. However, Ahmed pulls it off effortlessly. With riveting expressions, he conveys the angst, disillusionment and resentment of a musician that begrudgingly accepts a future of silence. It’s an Oscar-worthy performance from one of the most talented actors working today.

The supporting cast is spectacular and also worthy of recognition. Olivia Cooke is outstanding and brings palpable emotion to the movie as Ruben’s concerned girlfriend Lou. Paul Raci is remarkable and delivers empowering speeches to deaf communities as the inspirational mentor Joe. And finally, it is hard to not mention Lauren Ridloff. As a deaf actress, she bravely exposes her disability onscreen.

Although “Sound of Metal” offers an authentic depiction of deafness, ultimately it is not a flawless film. If there’s a minor drawback to the movie, it suffers from a slow pace. Accompanied by Nicholas Becker’s sound design, Marder keeps the movie moving at an engrossing pace during the first hour. However, once the film enters its finale, it starts to lose steam and test the viewer’s patience. Moreover, the film’s themes may not please everyone. The film tackles heavy topics such as drug addiction, hearing impairment and rehabilitation that may upset viewers. Viewers that have experienced hearing loss may find it hard to digest the movie. Due to its harrowing subject, “Sound of Metal” is one of those movies that may not appeal towards mainstream audiences.

Nevertheless, viewers with disabilities will definitely appreciate “Sound of Metal” and so will movie-goers seeking heartwarming entertainment. An awe-inspiring technical achievement, it offers an eye-opening look at the experiences of marginalized deaf communities. In an industry often criticized for its insensitive depictions of disabilities, it’s an empowering reminder that the oft-ignored stories of deaf communities deserve to be seen and heard.

4.5/5 stars

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