Sound of Metal (2020) is a tremendous showcase of talent, storytelling, directing, cinematography, editing, sound design, and…well, everything that we have come to love about cinema. Yet, it is no blockbuster, and it probably won’t appeal to all audiences. Nonetheless, this is a film that demands you watch it and observe the character’s inner turmoil, as he deals with a loss that threatens to take away his very sense of purpose and identity.
Ruben (Riz Ahmed), and his girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke), are a metal band that lives in an RV as they tour their music. That is, however, until Ruben begins to experience extreme hearing loss. This sudden change that threatens everything he loves also pushes him back towards his old self-destructive ways. Seeking to find some sense of balance, Ruben goes to a community led by Joe (Paul Raci) to learn to deal with becoming deaf while coping with old habits.
Sound of Metal is Darius Marder’s directorial debut – and he nailed it. Just the look of the opening scene, as Ruben appears to be alone with his drums at first only to slowly reveal he is performing a show with Lou, establishes what Marder is doing with this story. This film is such an intimate look at Ruben and the experience he is about to go through, and Marder puts the audience in his shoes every chance he gets. The film is so visually compelling, and the storytelling that comes through those visuals makes the experience all the more impactful.
The sound in this movie is so important; even if that sound is silence. There are long stretches of this film that have no sound at all. Other moments we hear distorted voices, high pitched noises, and everything in between. We know what Ruben is experiencing – and, for me personally, it was terrifying at times. It plays such an important role in the story that it almost overshadows how well executed the visual style is in this film.
Of course, the performances deserve so much of the credit. Ahmed is an exposed nerve in this film, and he allows us to experience every up and down Ruben goes through. Cooke – while her character isn’t given much screen time in total – has a performance so layered that the depth of her character is explored with the subtlest of movements and facial expressions. Little lines of dialogue that could simply be disregarded as excess information reveal a wealth of history about their relationship.
Despite these two incredible performances, it is Paul Raci as Joe who really stole my heart. Joe has such a sagelike presence that he welcomes the audience along with Ruben into this world. He slowly immerses us in the water, offering us support but letting us know it is ultimately up to us to swim. The subtle conflicts portrayed in this film would be something that a lesser movie would have taken as a chance to have it’s big swing or over-the-top twist, which only infuses this film with excellence all the more.
Sound of Metal is going to be one of my favorite films of 2020. I’m writing this four days after watching it, and my love of the film has grown more each day. It really struck a chord with my soul, and it’s presence is reverberating more and more as it bounces from my brain to my heart and back again. Sound of Metal is available to stream on Amazon Prime, and I truly feel like I need everyone to watch it. You may not love it as much as me, but I know that for some, it will impact you as much as it did me. Without a doubt, I believe this is a Must See movie.