Sound of Metal a film that surprises

Here are two takes on an Oscar-winning film, one from Glebite Barbara Popel and the other by Glebe Collegiate student Angus Luff.

Sound of Metal a film that surprises

Sound of Metal
(USA, 2019)
Director: Darius Marder

Review by Angus Luff

Sound of Metal  is not what you think it is, and it’s probably one of the biggest surprises in a while. If you looked at the poster or the summary on IMDb, you’d probably expect something similar to Whiplash, maybe a stressful thriller designed to keep you on the edge of your seat. There are moments of that, but Sound of Metal is really a personal tale of change and acceptance.

The film revolves around Ruben (Riz Ahmed), a drummer from a heavy metal band, and his girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke). His hearing starts to deteriorate while on tour, and his world of music is torn away from him. But when he is taken into a community of deaf people, run by a gentle Vietnam veteran named Joe (Paul Raci), Ruben realizes he can either continue to live as a deaf person or get an implant in his ears and continue drumming.

This film is built mainly on two things – Ahmed’s excellent performance and the life-like sound design. First let’s talk about Ahmed. He is fantastic and plays the role with a range of emotions. Sometimes he freaks out in anger when he gets frustrated; sometimes all his emotion is purely in his facial expressions. There is a realistic feel of confusion and fear in the first half hour that is sold by Ahmed’s fantastic performance. The way his character changes from someone who fears the silence to someone who embraces it is done exceptionally well. He is never over or under active; he is always appropriate for what the character is feeling.

The sound design is another reason this film works so well. It is the chilling, almost claustrophobic soundscape of this deaf character that adds to the authenticity. Everything is muffled and low pitched; it sounds and feels how you would expect. This is alarming in the first half hour, but as the film plays out, that silence becomes soothing and calming. It is the character and the tone of the film that change the silence. The sound design helps sell the character, and the character helps sell the sound design.

Sound of Metal has plenty of other great performances, the pace is slow and takes its time to breathe with the characters, the dialogue is rarely transparent or cheesy, and the ending leaves you with so much, without any dialogue at all. The film really is about this one person and his acceptance of this hard time in his life. This isn’t the best film from last year, but it’s definitely the one that left me the most surprised in the best way possible.

Angus Luff is a student at Glebe Collegiate. He grew up in the Glebe and is obsessed with movies.

Running time: 2 hours
Rated 14A
Available: Hoopla, Google Play,
Apple TV, Cineplex Store,
TIFF Digital Lightbox


Review by Barbara Popel

If you think Sound of Metal – the film about a heavy metal drummer who suddenly loses his hearing – isn’t the film for you, think again. There are only a few minutes of painfully loud heavy metal at the beginning of the film. But sound is at the heart of this terrific film.

Ruben (Riz Ahmed), the drummer, and Lou (Olivia Cooke), his girlfriend, are a two-piece group on the cusp of success. They’re about to cut an album and are touring the U.S., playing to enthusiastic fans. They’re also very much in love.

The film opens at the end of a concert. As any good rock drummer would do, Ruben tosses his drumsticks to the cheering crowd. Next morning in their comfy Airstream trailer, Ruben quietly gets up and makes green smoothies and coffee. You’re keenly aware of the homey sounds of him blending smoothies, of coffee dripping into the pot, of his breathing during calisthenics, of him cleaning their sound equipment with delicate sprays of compressed air. Then he puts on an LP of Bessie Smith singing “Careless Love” and gently wakes up Lou. They dance to a romantic song. A very sweet couple.

While setting up their merch at their next gig, Ruben suddenly hears only muffled voices. And we hear what Ruben is hearing. Kudos to director Darius Marder – from then on, the film’s soundtrack is often only what Ruben hears. The audience is immersed in his experience of deafness. We climb into Ruben’s skin. It’s visceral. It’s impossible not to empathize.

His hearing is still distorted at that night’s concert. He – and we – hear only indistinct drumbeats and Lou’s guitar as a mush of sound. The next morning, he – and we – can hear almost nothing. He panics. He goes to an audiologist who tells him he is rapidly losing his hearing. To preserve what little hearing he has left, he must eliminate all loud noises; if he doesn’t, his hearing will disappear over the next few days and won’t come back. The specialist mentions cochlear implants. They’re expensive and aren’t covered by insurance. Ruben seems to understand his plight, but in the next scene he’s thrashing away at his drums in a concert. His hearing degenerates to a dull hum. He flees the concert and tells Lou he’s deaf. But he thinks the implant will fix things “like new” and that they should continue with touring to collect money for the surgery. She refuses. Lou phones Hector, who seems to be Ruben’s therapist. And Hector finds a deaf community where Ruben may get help.

The community is run by Joe (Paul Raci), an Army veteran who lost his hearing in Vietnam. He’s also an alcoholic. This community is for recovered addicts who are deaf. We learn that Ruben is a heroin addict who has been “clean” for four years, ever since he met Lou. Joe tells Ruben, “We’re looking for a solution to what’s going on in the mind, not to fixing the deafness.” He recommends that Ruben stay to learn American Sign Language (ASL) but have no contact with Lou. Ruben refuses. Lou gives him an ultimatum: If he hurts himself by continuing to play, she’ll start hurting herself again. She packs her bags and leaves, promising that she’ll wait for him. Ruben goes back to Joe’s community.

Joe assigns Ruben his only task: “Learn to be deaf.”

The first few scenes at the community and at a nearby school for deaf children make it painfully clear how isolated Ruben is. He can’t “speak” ASL and can’t read lips. But rapidly (rather too rapidly, as there’s little evidence of time passing), he becomes fluent in ASL. When he starts using ASL, we start “hearing” him and others speak via subtitles. He bonds with the children; there are some really lovely scenes of him and the kids.

But Ruben wants to go back to his old life as a musician with Lou. He takes matters into his own hands.

At the recent Academy Awards, Sound of Metal won Oscars for best sound and best film editing, awards it was also given by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. The film was also nominated for best picture at the Oscars, and Ahmed and Raci were nominated for best leading actor and supporting actor respectively. All these honours are very well deserved.

Barb Popel has lived in the Glebe since 1991. At university in the early 1970s, she was introduced to the joys of film. She’s been an avid filmgoer ever since.

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