Friday, November 20, 2020

Sound of Metal


Living the indie rock star life, metal duo Blackgammon tours the country in their RV to perform at various gigs. Lou Berger (Olivia Cooke) serves as the lead vocalist while boyfriend Ruben Stone (Riz Ahmed) is her drummer. Constantly exposed to a loud environment while performing, Ruben realizes that he is quickly losing his hearing. Consulting a doctor, he is faced with a life-changing reality as he is diagnosed to now be able to hear just between 20 and 30 percent of all the sound he is exposed to. The doctor suggests cochlear implants to salvage what they could, but the operation is not covered by medical insurance and will cost them thousands of dollars. Left without much of a choice, Lou moves on as a solo act in Europe while Ruben is welcomed in a rural shelter for the deaf. There, he is introduced to a community helmed by Vietnam veteran Joe (Paul Raci), a recovering alcoholic who lost his hearing during the war. Ruben must decide whether to embrace his new group or go for broke and take a chance on the surgery that could bring back the life he knew.

Most films dealing with disabilities as the main theme tend to be repetitive by focusing mainly on those dealing with PWDs. As such, what you get is a third-person perspective telling you what the experience is like. Sound of Metal frames the narrative not just from the perspective of those around Ruben, but also based on his own POV. Since the story concentrates on a person losing his hearing abilities, the director gets to play around with the audio to make you hear what Ruben actually hears, or doesn't.

In this regard, it would not come as a surprise should this film rake in technical accolades come awards season. Think Best Sound and Best Film Editing, to name a few. The movie is brilliant like that because you get to experience, albeit not directly, what losing one’s hearing is like from an aural perspective. But of course, we must also give credit where it’s due by acknowledging the passionate portrayal of the actors involved. In this case, Ahmed and Raci form a formidable pair that just gives you the feels.

If not for Chadwick Boseman’s posthumous buzz or had Anthony Hopkins not been in contention for The Father, one can easily see Ahmed sweeping the Best Actor race this year. Unfortunately, the current scenario puts him at a disadvantage. In any case, this performance is a good welcome to the elite acting club. While arguably lacking in nuance and lingering for a while in the angry denial phase, Ahmed’s Ruben still serves as a passionate portrait of a man coming to grips with his new reality, whether to embrace it or languish in self-pity and denial.

Raci offers solid support as the no-nonsense mentor who has been there and done that. Joe’s commanding presence and calm demeanor is a good foil for Ruben’s miserable and reluctant path to acceptance. The same could not really be said for Cooke’s Lou, however, not because of the actress’ performance but rather due to her limited exposure as well as the lack of necessity for further character development. It doesn’t help that she does not seem to have much chemistry with Ahmed either.

Overall, Sound of Metal is a good introduction to the world of the deaf. As a caveat, though, not everything will be accurate, and you will be reading some negative reactions online from actual members of the deaf community. We understand the criticism, because this is a story about a marginalized group that not a lot of people really try to better understand. However, we should also remember that this is not a documentary to begin with. At the end of the day, creative license is still necessary to pave the way for emotional storytelling. Nevertheless, the movie does pique one’s curiosity, and that’s a good start.

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