You make a film about a metal drummer who begins to lose his hearing and it's not horror? How is this even possible? Director Darius Marder's narrative feature debut Sound Of Metal, which he also co-wrote with his brother Abraham Marder, takes a look at Ruben (Riz Ahmed) who finds himself hard of hearing while on tour with his bandmate and girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke) and since he is also a recovering heroin addict, he goes to stay at a deaf sobriety house.
The place is run by Joe (Paul Raci) who gives Ruben support and assignments, also giving him the chance to learn American Sign Language. A lot of it seems like horror because I myself play drums and love a fair share of metal and hardcore music but even putting that emotional resonation aside, the film is a beautiful example of a well-told story that has an exceptional cast and immersive craftsmanship.
Whenever the main thing appears as the first word in the title, we may as well start with that one. You can pretty often hear how sound gets used to expand scenes beyond the camera framing, a good example could be a crash or doors slamming, but Sound Of Metal does that in addition to showing how Ruben perceives the events. Not only are the design elements of the audio mesmerising and informative but how selectively and tightly they are edited is also a huge factor. If those weren't so tied to Ruben's journey or displayed correctly in the captions for the deaf audience, it would be much harder to feel like you're in the same space with these characters.
The story of a musician and an addict having to come to terms with hearing loss is great in itself and would make a good movie but the interplay between sound, fine-tuned acting and that story is what elevates every one of those aspects of filmmaking, ultimately elevating the piece from good to outstanding.
That fine-tuned acting mentioned above is something that you could write a decent review about even if it was the only good thing about the movie. Ahmed doesn't miss a single beat in his role physically nor emotionally and on top of that, as a drummer it has to be noted that the drumming itself is done correctly. Too often in movies you see actors playing instruments wrong which is always a disservice to a character because the audience is supposed to be invited in. He has seemed to also take the ASL seriously which furthermore enhances Ruben as a character.
All of that extends to Cooke too as she is able to match Ahmed's intensity and her metal screaming is pretty gnarly as well. The film especially comes alive when Ahmed's and Raci's characters meet since Raci is really driving the RV home when emotional beats start to happen in the script, those scenes make Ruben's decisions even more heartbreaking. And when you think it couldn't get more heartbreaking, Marder's final shot makes you feel like you've known Ruben for a lifetime even if only a short amount of time has passed.
Smileys: Sound design, sound editing, Riz Ahmed, story, Paul Raci
Frowneys: Nothing too awful
To be fair, donuts and snare drums are similarly shaped so of course he would smash through them both.