Movie Review – Sound of Metal
Review by Ray Schillaci
Amazon Studios’ Oscar nominated Sound of Metal is one of those rarities in film that somehow turns what you may perceive as a tragedy into a profound message that will linger far after it is over. Perhaps not since Cuckoo’s Nest has there been such a revelation in a film. The story of a heavy-metal drummer and former drug addict (drug of choice – heroin) discovers he’s going deaf, tries desperately not to fall apart so he may save the undying love of his front singer/girlfriend. The film is filled with amazing performances and perfect directing and writing, adding up to a near transcendental experience.
Co-screenwriter/director Darius Marder, co-screenwriter Abraham Marder and story co-writer Derek Cianfrance paint a beautiful and complex picture of two tortured souls who have saved each other, Ruben and Lou. Riz Ahmed and Olivia Cooke both give electrifying and earthy performances. The film opens with the two of them at a club giving a raucous performance. Lou’s shrieking vocals are as tormented as the hammering of Ruben’s drums and cymbals, and the crowd goes wild. It nearly feels cathartic for both artist and audience.
Fast forward to the next morning. They are not just in a band, the two lovers have very different personas off stage. They live in an RV, traveling from gig to gig. Lou is very reserved and likes to sleep in while Ruben prefers to be up early listening to old jazz, preparing a good breakfast and gently waking up the woman of his dreams and slow dancing with her. It’s surprisingly romantic. But, one can tell that there is this agony between the two that lingers there. We can tell by the self-inflicted cuts or scratches on Lou’s arm and the desperation in Ruben’s face.
While playing another gig, Ruben begins to lose his hearing. This would be considered a curse to any musician that could easily drive them mad. Ruben begins to spiral and Lou fears he may return to drugs after four years of sobriety. Ruben seeks out answers to his hearing. He is led to a specialist that performs implants for those losing their hearing. But, the cost is far too high. Meanwhile, Lou looks for a different resolution – a recovery house exclusively for the deaf.
With much resistance, Ruben finally agrees to check the place out. He insists that his problem is not battling addiction, it’s the loss of his hearing. The man who runs the place, Joe, is deaf and a recovering alcoholic. He attempts to explain to Ruben that the shelter is not about recovering what’s lost, but fixing one’s thinking. Joe also explains that Lou will not be able to stay with him, and his RV keys will have to be relinquished along with his cellphone.
Ruben doesn’t care for Joe’s thinking or his rules and walks out. He’s too worried about Lou. He feels obligated to take care of her and fears losing her. It’s only a short while later that Ruben has a fit of rage and Lou insists on him going back while she spends time with her estranged father. This breaks Ruben’s heart, but he submits to her wishes.
Ruben’s time with Joe and the others at the shelter seems life altering. On the surface, Ruben’s experience there seems to open his mind. But, he still cannot get past needing to fix his hearing and is desperate to get the implants. Our journey with Ruben, Joe and the people at the shelter is both heartbreaking and life-affirming. The message left at the end of the film may take your breath away.
Director Darius Marder delivers us Ruben’s point of view and we experience his loss and the frustration of what he is going through. On the other end, we also relish what’s missing and Marder’s sound design works overtime bringing to the forefront rustling trees, a light wind glazing through tall grass with birds chirping and insects playing nature’s songs. It is not just the sounds, but the pictures Marder paints that are so impressive.
Riz Ahmed gives a career performance and his Oscar nomination only establishes it more. Paul Raci as Joe is so compelling and passionate, and he has also been nominated for an Academy Award. In my opinion, Olivia Cooke was criminally overlooked as Lou. Her multi-layered performance is filled with such angst, passion and pain that it breaks our heart and we see why Ruben is compelled not just to be her lover but her guardian as well.
Darius Marder, his writers and cast deliver an emotionally exhausting portrait of the tortured souls of artists and what drives them. But, Marder does not just settle for that. He also gives us hope and life affirmation as well. Sound of Metal is a film to be remembered through the ages and is available on Amazon.
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Directed by: Darius Marder
Release Date: December 4, 2020
Run Time: 120 Minutes
Distributor: Amazon Studios