Sound of Metal Review: Riz Ahmed Leads a Harrowing, Must-See Drama

The silence is deafening in Sound of Metal, which is a sincere compliment to the way that director Darius Marder handles the material in the film. So many other movies might mistake a total lack of sound as being a void that has to be filled, or audiences might become too uncomfortable with its placement and fill it with laughter, but not here. When these gaps in dialogue, music, and effects happen, they carry a tremendous weight because the entire portrait of the film’s protagonist is so consuming for the viewer that these inescapable moments for him are punches to the gut for all of us.

Four Lions and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story star Riz Ahmed leads Sound Of Metal, starring as Ruben, the drummer for a heavy metal duo that finds himself suddenly without one of his primary assets, the ability to hear. Though a portrait of his life with romantic and musical partner Lou (played by the outstanding Olivia Cooke) is painted as being blissful but also a scattershot existence, their time spent parking their tour RV in non-descript Midwestern parking lots comes to a halt with this news. The energy and bond between them feel palpable as the seriousness of this major development in Ruben’s life can be felt from the moment it happens all the way to the film’s conclusion.

Writer/director Darius Marder handles the subject with finesse when he’s forced to plunge the viewer into the deafness that Ruben is experiencing first hand. Moments of garbled dialogue and complete stillness push the images to mean even more than they would if a powerful score was playing underneath and Ahmed brings a palpable level of frustration to his new life throughout, answering questions that he cannot hear and defying doctors orders by trying to continue his heavy-metal lifestyle.

Though the few promo images and title might make you assume this is a wall-to-wall movie about the performance angle of Ruben’s life, that quickly falls away as it becomes clear his new circumstances make it almost impossible. He finds refuge in a nearby home for hearing-impaired persons that work in the community and lean on each other for support. Naturally, this is something that’s almost impossible for him to accept at first glance and Ahmed’s performance continues to ground the character into wholly relatable circumstances throughout.

Opposite Ahmed, in addition to Cooke who mostly bookends the movie but offers solace to the troubled Ruben, are a host of actual deaf and hearing-impaired actors and actresses. Chelsea Lee and Lauren Ridloff contribute memorable scenes to the film, both deaf themselves, which offer moments of teaching and understanding for Ruben on his journey, while also bringing an air of levity that keeps him grounded and accepting of his new world. Another major factor is Paul Raci, though not deaf himself, but an ASL activist and CODA (child of deaf adults), who brings a compassion and realness to the film that keeps the plot moving and Ruben on his toes.

Marder's script juggles the drama and tensions throughout this story with a sense of reality but seldom actually resorts to melodrama for cheap effect. The only real downside to what this film does are the hoops it leaps through from act two to act three that move its pacing and world to the other side of the globe. These sequences ultimately work, but there's a sudden whiplash, though they offer even more of the film's larger moments of calm and quiet, finally bringing a peace for its subject and the audience. Sound of Metal will stick with you and is easily among the year's best.

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Rating: 5 out of 5

Sound of Metal will premiere in theaters this Friday, November 20th, and will be streaming on Amazon Prime Video on December 4th.