Movies about musicians have been very prevalent over the years. Sometimes they are about real musicians, but more often they are about fictional musicians and or their loved ones. Writers have to find a hook that ties to the musician in question. In the case of Sound of Metal, the hook is a heavy metal drummer going deaf from his craft. The hook creates a lot of drama throughout the film.
Ruben Stone (Riz Ahmed) is a heavy metal drummer in a band with his lead singer girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke). After jamming out one day, Ruben notices that he is losing his hearing. He lets his girlfriend know. They both notify their representative from the music company they are signed with. They say they’ll get back to them later.
Ahmed has played some interesting characters in his short acting career. Nazir “Naz” Khan in the HBO mini-series The Night Of, Bohdi Rook in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and Hermann Kermit Warm in The Sisters Brothers. The role that put him on the map as an actor to look at going forward is Rick, the friend of Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) in Nightcrawler. Ruben might be the best role of his lifetime. He goes to levels as an actor he has never reached before. He’s in the mix for Best Actor at the next Academy Awards.
Olivia Cooke is an actress a lot of people haven’t noticed as someone who can support more dramatic fare. She is predominantly known as a horror film actress. Films like Ouija, The Limehouse Golem, and The Quiet Ones have been her norm in her filmography. The occasional sci-fi film (Ready Player One) dark comedy (Thoroughbreds), and romance, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl have littered her career. Lou in Sound of Metal is more of a serious turn for Cooke, which is good for her.
Films about people with disabilities can sometimes be contrived. They pull on the heartstrings of the viewer without giving enough backstory or info to make them care enough. Sound of Metal is the exact opposite. It gives the viewer all the information it needs to care about the lead character. By having him go to doctors and a hearing-impaired group home, dealing with the bad news he’s given, it is left up to him to decide on what he should do going forward. This is how you tell a story about a person with a disability.
Darius Marder is a relative newcomer to directing films. Sound of Metal is his second directing job, the other being a documentary from 2008 called Loot. Yet even though he’s been to directing he’s not new to working in the film industry. He wrote the screenplay for A Place Beyond the Pines. This time around, he is writing and directing. He shows a lot of talent behind the camera as well as with his writing. Close-up shots and dialogue-driven scenes are done very effectively. The conversations have a lot of weight to them, even the ones done through sign language.
Having known someone with partial hearing loss, Marder captured this subsection of society very well. The difficulty of having said hearing loss isn’t easy to overcome. For the person with the loss or those around him or her. The performances from Ahmed and others created a world where this disability is a difficult one to overcome. People are willing to help that person and programs are available to slowly transition him or her into this different phase in their life. This film was a great look at all aspects of hearing loss and the cost it has for all involved.
Dan Skip Allen
Founder Head Film Critic/Editor