Written and directed by Darius Marder, co-written by Abraham Marder and Derek Cianfrance, a heavy-metal drummer’s life is thrown into freefall when he begins to lose his hearing. Starring: Riz Ahmed, Olivia Cooke, Paul Raci, Lauren Ridloff, Mathieu Amalric, Domenico Toledo, Chelsea Lee and Shaheem Sanchez.
Riz Ahmed has been consistently giving fantastic performances but in recent years he’s finally found roles to highlight his talent, particularly last year’s Mogul Mowgli and now Sound of Metal. It was a wild coincidence for him to end up in two roles of musicians dealing with deteriorating medical conditions in one year but it speaks to the quality of his performances that they are both completely unique. Ahmed brings an intense energy as Ruben, it has an edge of chaos but for the most part it’s remarkably still, it keenly reflects the character’s path as a recovering addict. It also strikes a huge note of fear, it’s hard to watch at times as he struggles with the transition.
Once you see Paul Raci’s performance, it’s easy to see why there’s been so much hype around him this awards season. Even if you boiled his performance down to his most impactful scene, it would still be Oscar worthy, it’s highly emotional and heart-breaking. It’s a shame that Olivia Cooke doesn’t quite get the chance to make such an impact, it’s a step away from her usual roles, taking on something more edgy but at the same time, it’s a typically compassionate performance. The chemistry that Cooke and Ahmed have together feels very natural and established, they almost feel like an old married couple with how in sync and effortless their relationship is.
It’s not hard to believe that this story was originally conceived by Derek Cianfrance, you can see his typical style in the writing, with its tone feeling somewhat similar to The Place Beyond the Pines. It has that slightly dark edge to an otherwise grounded drama, with peaks of anger, frustration and desperation. It’s very easy to sympathise with Ruben which makes you draw into his story even further, it’s so easily captivating that it holds your attention flawlessly from start to finish. It moves at a great pace, you can feel the passage of time as it moves forward but it’s a very smooth and fluid speed, allowing each portion of the story the time it needs before moving on. It works especially well after Ruben arrives at the deaf community, moving quickly through his adjustment to living there and learning sign language, it’s fairly fast in the larger picture but works perfectly.
While Ahmed’s performance is undoubtedly the centre of this film, it’s Marder’s direction that brings it home. The most important decision that he made about the directorial style was to have the confidence to let it sit in silence, to not force an unnecessary score or continue to let the audience hear everything as any abled person would, it tells the story firmly through his perspective. That choice made all the difference, it intensifies its scenes and pushes them to really strike at the heart, so you can feel his struggle, even potentially to a point of being uncomfortable. His style also feels intimate and focused, there’s an ease to its atmosphere, in its purposeful and thoughtful nature. It manages to take its time to emphasize the emotional consequences of its scenes without ever feeling slow.
Sound of Metal is anchored by yet another fantastic performance from Riz Ahmed but it’s Darius Marder’s direction that really intensifies its viewing experience. It’s a gripping story that pulls you in so deeply it becomes uncomfortable or hard to watch, in the best way. Its style is incredibly thoughtful to truly bring you the story through Ruben’s perspective, making it all the more thrilling and moving to watch.