Ruben (Riz Ahmed) is a drummer in a musical duo with his lover, Lou (Olivia Cooke), and in recovery as an addict. Touring across the US, Ruben begins to experience hearing loss and is told that he will soon be completely deaf. Fearing that he may start using again, he is convinced to stay with a deaf community who begin to treat both his physical condition and his mental state...
Hearing loss and deafness is something that's easy for hearing people to experience, and those who have it do not view it as a handicap. In fact, the central theme around 'Sound of Metal' is one of acceptance. Ruben Stone, Riz Ahmed's character, right from the very beginning of the movie, is shown to be endlessly proactive and darts across the screen with life and energy. He's fixing things in his RV, he's soundchecking, he's working out and making healthy breakfasts, he's in constant motion and doesn't stop for a second.
When you're in recovery for addiction, this is quite common. You have to keep moving to keep ahead of it, whatever it is. It could be alcohol, it could be gambling, it could be anything. In Ruben's case, it's heroin. Yet, what 'Sound of Metal' does so well is that it reminds us that stillness is never something that is easily earned. Much of the movie is about Ruben learning to come to terms with it, and stop fighting it. Joe, played by veteran character actor Paul Raci, helps mentor Ruben in this but it's never done in such a way that it feels sentimental or cheap. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Every emotional beat in 'Sound of Metal' feels like it's hard-fought and won by the strength of Riz Ahmed's incredible performance, the supporting work of Paul Raci, and by director Darius Marder's ability to let moments simply sit with the audience. When we experience his hearing loss, Marder smartly lets the sound design tell the story instead of making overt visual choices. Everything is far away, slowly becoming quiet, before it's gone.
When sound does factor back in, it's for the benefit of those around them. Sound, such as it is, doesn't matter to them anymore. It's a beautiful idea, that whether they hear it or not is irrelevant. It's summed up in one scene where, initially, we can't hear anything at a dinner table as the people around Ruben sign and tap one another. It's only later, when he learns to communicate, that there's this lively, spirited conversation occurring around him and now he's able to partake in it.
Again, this goes back to a central theme in 'Sound of Metal' - acceptance. Acceptance that when things change, they change and we cannot always hope to fix them. Learning to make peace with that, and find some kind of contentment, is what 'Sound of Metal' aims to deliver, and it does. Riz Ahmed's character work is incredible, he imbues Ruben with such a sense of vulnerability and anguish, while Paul Raci is able to present this aura of utter calm that feels so at odds with Ahmed's performance. Yet, in that friction, we find the movie's heart and soul. The scenes shared between them are so potent and you'll come away from the movie truly moved and heartbroken by it all.
'Sound of Metal' is available on Amazon Prime from April 12th.