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Film Review: Sound of Metal
by Marinell Haegelin

Darius Marder, Belgium, USA 2019

The overpowering beat of throbbing heavy metal music pounds at audiences’ eardrums –justifying instinctively covering one’s ears, and screams through our veins while setting seats aquiver. Opening with the Blackgammon duo onstage, Darius Marder’s film yanks audiences into his protagonist’s imminent dilemma, as the camera pensively focuses on Ruben’s face.

The duo is tight. Together they laugh often, and work hard. This tour’s schedule is compact. Ruben’s (Riz Ahmed) not only the drummer, he’s the driver, and keeps them fit cooking healthy meals. In tandem, Lou (Olivia Cooke) belts out songs with unabashed gusto, manages mundane matters, and bolsters Ruben. When an initial fuzziness is followed by “water-in-the-ear” sensations, a worried Ruben takes action, only to learn he’s plummeting into deafness. Albeit, he’s given a “ghost stroke” of hope. Concurrently, onstage Lou intuits Ruben’s drumming is offbeat; confronted, Ruben confesses. A phone call is made; Joe (Paul Raci) and the duo meet; Lou phones dad (Mathieu Amalric); and, then heads out leaving Ruben with the deaf community. Wary of help, Ruben immaturely contacts Lou knowing Joe’s rules are few, but binding. Even as he begins to trust Joe, connect with others, and rebuild his life at the farm, Ruben’s fearful non-acceptance of this new reality drives a naïvely foolish choice; later he soft-pedals his decision. Joe’s interested instead whether Ruben “ever found that place” they talked about. He’s still looking, but just doesn’t know it.

SOUND OF METAL’s original screenplay is compelling and appealing alongside introducing likable characters portrayed by a stellar cast that includes members of the deaf community. Ahmed’s astute acting prowess adds weight, believability to help us understand his character, and individuals that experience sudden deafness. Production values are top-notch; and the incredibly nimble sound design captures the minutiae sounds, e.g., amongst the deaf community’s gentle interactions and in nature, to the assaultive—usually manmade—everyday sounds that barrage humans. The film’s thought-tickling stimuli will reverberate long after its music fades.