New to UK subscribers of Amazon Prime is the drama feature film, Sound of Metal. The movie – directed by Darius Marder – stars Riz Ahmed, Olivia Cooke and Paul Raci, and tells the story of Ruben Stone – a professional drummer who suddenly loses his hearing.
Ruben is a recovering addict and one half of metal band, Blackgammon. He lives in an RV with his girlfriend, Lou, who is also the singer of the band, and together the pair gig their way across America.
But one day, Ruben begins to experience problems with his hearing. He goes to see a doctor, believing this to be a temporary problem with a simple solution, but is told that he now only has 28% hearing in his right ear, 24% hearing in his left ear, and the situation is only going to get worse.
A surgical operation to fit cochlear implants could help Ruben regain some of his hearing, but the procedure is costly and not covered by insurance. And regardless of the operation, Ruben will need to accept adjustments will have to be made in his life as he moves forward.
Sound of Metal follows Ruben’s journey as he finds himself becoming part of the deaf community. The movie looks at the way in which he approaches a change in his life, how he learns new ways to communicate and reconnect with sound, and how this ultimately impacts his relationship and his outlook.
The film explores the emotional impact of Ruben’s story, including the ups, downs, and frustrations he experiences. It highlights different forms of communication, as well as the isolation that can come with hearing loss, and makes it clear that this is a continual journey and something which has to be worked on day-by-day.
This message is further strengthened by Ruben’s status as a recovering addict. The process of moving away from addiction takes time, as does learning new skills that can help him interact with the world around him, and on both fronts he is on a new path – whether he realises this or not.
His biggest barrier is himself, and this is something which he must learn. He can try out every form of communication possible, and many are explored, including sign language, lip reading, voice-activated computer tech, vibrations, and pen and paper, but none will help in the long-run, if he’s not prepared to change his mindset.
And this is the crux of this film. While Sound of Metal may tell a story about hearing loss, it is really about how someone adapts to a change in their circumstances – about fight or flight and living with the cards you are dealt, to adapt and make the best of your situation.
What I found very interesting about this movie is the way in which it makes use of sound to help tell the story. To better understand Ruben’s journey, different techniques are employed to demonstrate what he is experiencing.
These sounds offer snapshots into his hearing impairment and are a vital piece of the storytelling. They punch through the picture at various points, sometimes quite abruptly, constantly reminding the audience that hearing loss isn’t something which can be switched on and off.
Sound plays a significant role in the story, and is built into the fabric of this picture, becoming a vital component. Sound of Metal recently won a BAFTA Film Award for Best Sound and it’s not difficult to understand why.
Another vital component is Riz Ahmed’s performance as Ruben Stone – a character who is not entirely likeable. Sure, there are moments in Sound of Metal in which the audience can share his frustration, and empathise with his situation, but that doesn’t necessarily make Ruben all that endearing.
It is a bold choice for Ahmed and director Darius Marder to play the character this way, and one which could have proved off-putting – especially when considering that this is a two-hour movie. Two hours with someone who it is sometimes difficult to connect with, could have been a misstep, but it isn’t.
With a different actor in this role, the tone and feel of the movie could have changed entirely. With Ahmed as the lead the film works and Ruben’s story feels real and compelling.
Sound of Metal is an engaging movie, which place its focus on a subject matter which gets little attention. It tells its story in an interesting and respectful way, with a strong cast and a great use of sound.
This is a movie which doesn’t put a foot wrong and is very confident with its approach to the material. It is a compelling drama which is both entertaining and informative.