Review: Sound of Metal

May 26, 2021

By Daniel Snowden

Going into Sound of Metal, you would be forgiven for thinking of it as a kind of spiritual drumming sequel to Whiplash (2014). However, Sound of Metal is not as much a film about drumming, as it is about the realities of an identity crisis.

Understated and unequivocally authentic, Sound of Metal is a stirring rehabilitation drama that sits with the importance of identity and the inevitability of change. The story follows Ruben, a recovering drug addict and heavy metal drummer, played remarkably well by Riz Ahmed, and his musical and romantic partner Lou, played by Olivia Cooke, as they tour the U.S. in their two-person heavy metal band, ‘Blackgammon’. Moving from town to town in their R.V., Ruben’s life is suddenly thrown into disarray after discovers that he has hearing loss. From here, Sound of Metal morphs into a rehabilitation drama, as Ruben copes with his hearing impairment as well as the history of his drug addiction. The film brutally portrays Ruben’s distress as his hearing degrades, but also illustrates deafness as a way of living as opposed to a disability. The film’s conflict comes from Ruben’s struggle to adapt and change as he comes to terms with his new self. As a result, the process of Ruben’s rehabilitation is thoroughly disarming, provocative and heartbreaking at every turn.

Sound of Metal is Darius Marder’s directorial (feature film) debut. Marder and the film’s collaborators do exceedingly well to control the tempo and motion of what is seen on screen. The film moves at a tempered pace, inviting the audience to embellish in its delicate detail and on-screen performances. Speaking of which, it is difficult to talk about Sound of Metal without drawing attention to Riz Ahmed’s committed performance. Ahmed dedicated plenty of time preparing for the role, from learning how to play the drums from scratch to studying American Sign Language. We can see every detail as Ruben learns to live with his deafness, particularly since Ahmed undergoes the very same process throughout the films’ production. All of this is aided by utterly brilliant sound design led by Nicolas Becker, who takes the viewer into Ruben’s head and seamlessly out again, finding the balance between silence, noise and everything in-between. As a result, the sound design is truly immersive, while also offering insight into the experiences of those living with hearing loss and deafness.

Every single detail is attended to, ensuring that Sound of Metal sees to the realities that underly Ruben’s story.

Without spoilers, by the film’s conclusion Sound of Metal is more than just an addiction drama about a musician coming to terms with deafness. It is a film about rehabilitating the self in light of change and acknowledging the inevitable silence that underpins all life and identity. And although you might be thinking “well, that sounds very grim”, I can assure you that Sound of Metal is a rewarding watch.

Coming off the recent 93rd Academy Awards, Sound of Metal was well represented, winning Academy Awards for Best Editing and Sound Design. It was also nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor and Best Original Screenplay. Sound of Metal is currently available at some local cinemas, and on Amazon Prime Video.