Cert – 15, Run-time – 2 hours – Director – Darius Marder
A heavy metal drummer (Riz Ahmed) finds his life and career shattered as he enters a centre to help deal with his sudden deafness.
Back in October Riz Ahmed gave a career-best performance as a rapper dealing with a deteriorating body in Mogul Mowgli. Now, we see him top this with the story of metal drummer, Ruben, who finds his world plunging into silence as his hearing rapidly declines. As things worsen for him – and he can’t afford to get $40,000 implants – he, with the help of girlfriend and bandmate Lou (Olivia Cooke) enters a centre to help people come to terms with deafness. Leader Joe (Paul Raci – who grew up the hearing child of deaf parents) makes clear that here deafness is not viewed as a disability or handicap. Ruben is taught sign language and living his life more patiently, learning to cope with his deafness with the help of those around him – alongside recovering from a drug addiction.
Ahmed is chameleonic in the lead role, you truly forget that it’s even him, that the character looks like him or anything else. The performance is physical as well as deeply involved in the slightest of terrified facial expressions. He gives a sensational performance of effective and authentic emotion. He’s scared and worried about almost all of his decisions, let alone what’s happening to him. And yet, there’s gradual change and what some might call redemption. You can’t help but have a smile put across your face during certain moments, whether it’s of pride, relief, happiness, something else or perhaps a mixture of the above. While a lot of this is down to Ahmed’s fine performance you have to also credit the fine editing and pacing of the piece, as it finely tunes the arc and development of the central figure.
You form a connection with him as your put inside his head and experience the world through both his eyes and, more importantly, ears. The sound design is, of course, integral to the piece and it deserves the Oscar that it’s likely to win. From the focus on the slightest sounds at the start of the film; such as dripping coffee, the creaking of a motorhome and other small everyday noises, to muffled, rumbly, distorted confusion as Ruben begins to almost instantly lose his hearing – he’s told early on by a doctor that the damage to his ears could mean that his hearing completely vanishes in a number of hours. While the film’s sound design has been vastly praised the visual aspects of it haven’t quite been discussed as much. Ruben’s world is plunged into a cold, grey look that while perhaps not overly striking is subtly effective in allowing the viewer to further feel the world, especially what Ruben himself is feeling.
As everything pans out words don’t properly come to mind as to how to describe the film and what’s happening within it, one thing’s for sure, it certainly lodges itself in your mind and stays with you long after. It’s the type of film where clichéd words such as touching, affecting and emotional do apply. The film is a true mixture as it follows the rises and falls of its subject trying to cope with his sudden deafness, trying to regain a life he’s unsure he can get back, and trying to cope with what he views as a new, if potentially temporary, one. All told through a finely flowing story filled with great performances, and an outstanding turn from Riz Ahmed, more than deserving of every plaudit he finds himself nominated for, and potentially winning, for his role in this film – much like the excellent sound design that pushes you further into his terrified mind and deteriorating hearing.
Riz Ahmed is unrecognisable as a character who looks just like him, when mixed with the pacing and sound editing of Sound Of Metal what’s formed is a well-tuned character piece of fear and development that puts you into every detail of their rises and falls.