Sound of Metal -A-
Rated R, 130 minutes
Being an addict is tough enough, but try being an addict and going deaf and losing your music career. That's the premise of the compelling, touching new drama on Amazon Prime, "Sound of Metal" from "The Place Beyond the Pines" co-writer Darius Marder in his feature directing debut. In a year that's been anything but conventional, this unconventional drama is a searing reminder of acceptance and the power of our senses.
Ruben (Emmy-winner Riz Ahmed, excellent) is a drummer and one half of the metal rock duo Blackgammon along with his singer girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke of "Bates Motel"). A former drug addict, he is sober for four years. Suddenly, he begins to lose his hearing. His sponsor makes him go meet Joe (character actor Paul Raci), who leads a deaf community. With the help from them, Ruben struggles to accept his situation.
Marder's "Sound of Metal" is a superbly-acted, unsentimental portrait of a rock musician whose life is profoundly changed when he loses his hearing. This could've easily gone down the maudlin route or attempt to romanticize deafness, but it's grounded by an an intense, committed turn from Ahmed in the lead, and along with Marder's solid script and direction, it's one of the best films of the year.
It's a career-best turn from singer-actor Ahmed, who spent months not only learning how to play the drum for the film, but also American Sign Language (ASL), and he provides a well-drawn character in Ruben, who slowly adjusts to a new life when he's placed in a deaf community, and these scenes, filled with real deaf-non actors, is the highlight of the film. A frustrated Ruben must not only accept his new community, but even more so, accept himself.
The supporting cast is stellar too, with an equally intense Cooke as Ruben's girlfriend Lou, though the script doesn't give her enough to do. As Ruben's new mentor, unknown actor Raci is memorably engaging, sharing a couple of film's most powerful moments with Ahmed (watch the heartbreaking look on his face when he tells Ruben he must leave).
As with "The Place Beyond the Pines," Marder lets "Sound of Metal" go on a little too long, and the last act, with Lou's French father (Mathieu Amalric), is largely unnecessary, but it provides a rich, thought-provoking payoff that prompts the question: is it best to see the color of life in silence, or deal with the noise of life? You make that decision. Add "Sound of Metal" to your list of must-see films. On Amazon Prime.