The Movie Waffler New Release Review [Cinema/Amazon Prime Video] - SOUND OF METAL | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review [Cinema/Amazon Prime Video] - SOUND OF METAL

sound of metal review
A heroin-addicted Heavy Metal drummer loses his hearing.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Darius Marder

Starring: Riz Ahmed, Olivia Cooke, Paul Raci, Lauren Ridloff, Shaheem Sanchez, Chelsea Lee, Jeremy Stone, Mathieu Amalric

sound of metal poster

Of all musical passions, there is something uniquely ardent about the fandom of metal. In Britain, metal was the beloved soundtrack of bleak suburbia, with the genre’s urgency and sonic blatancy providing escapism and catharsis for oddball kids who were far removed from the action of metropolitan cities, offering a sense of community in sown on patches, distressed denim and scrawled classroom graffiti. Deeply uncool (metal’s greatest originators, Black Sabbath, came from the Midlands, after all), metal fans don’t give a fuck about your trends or fashions; it was only the music, that screaming assault on the inauthentic, which mattered.

sound of metal review

It is a lifestyle commitment which is palpable in the opening scenes of Darius Marder’s (Co-screenwriter, Abraham Marder; Co-story by Derek Cianfrance) critically garlanded Sound of Metal. Ruben (Riz Ahmed), is a drummer in a rock group with his romantic and musical partner Lou (the great Olivia Cooke). In a very cool Winnebago-come-home studio they traverse middle America playing the circuit and getting closer to that elusive big break. In excellent early scenes, we feel the sweat and spit of performance (watching Sound of Metal you are reminded of how ‘wet’ and physical live music is) This is their life: their hopes, passions and relationship tied together like the vivid symphonies of noise which they enact each night.

So, it comes as an especially cruel blow when Ruben begins to lose his hearing, along with his ability to play drums effectively and, consequently, his entire way of living. And it happens so quickly, too. Within a few terrifying sequences we are subject to the whispering tinnitus and blanked sounds which infiltrate Ruben’s hearing, and the hopelessness with which his initial denial is overruled (I watched Sound of Metal wearing headphones - an unpleasantly authentic experience).

sound of metal review

Of course, Riz is incredible. Sure, the commitment to the role is obvious: he’s ripped, bangs the drums convincingly, and is, eventually, fluent in U.S. sign language (like King Kong). But it is Ahmed’s natural and intense vulnerability which provides the film’s guiding beat: those big fawn eyes amongst those tight, pretty features, his frustration and acceptance that everything which mattered is being taken away irrevocably. Further catalysing the horror is the factor of Ruben’s previous heroin addiction, which results in Lou convincing him to pack off to a retreat for deaf recovering addicts.

Here is where the film falters a little. The retreat is new age bordering on cult, but we are supposed to accept its tenements as beneficial for Ruben. Paul Raci’s retreat despot Joe has this confrontational edge to him, as if Ruben is somehow the arsehole for losing his hearing, or at least for bemoaning the bereavement of his entire life. This theme is further muddled by the implication that Ruben’s previous heroin addiction (which is given only lip service, with the character’s sobriety in seemingly no danger of lapsing) is akin to his need to regain, not even his hearing essentially, but a foothold in, what was until mere weeks ago, his entire being. Joe says that ‘this sounds like addiction’ when Ruben asks for money to get cochlear implants, but I don’t think it does, really! Ruben argues that he can drum according to cues and is entirely focussed on returning to Lou and their idyllic, devotional way of life: not even in the same ballpark as substance abuse. We get the sense that it is not even ‘hearing’ that Ruben is frightened of losing, but his access to the supra-cult of rock and all the belonging which that particular counter-culture entails.

sound of metal review

Without wishing to get into spoiler territory, there is a definite sense that Ruben’s loss of hearing has perhaps permanently excluded him from his prior context with Lou, and that we are supposed to be uplifted when he kowtows to a new normal. Ending with not a bang but a whimper, while Sound of Metal’s candid and positive approach to disability is refreshing, the film’s ultimate transposition from its sweaty opening is somewhat off-key, and untrue to the intimate sense of belonging inherent to the suffix of the film’s title. It is Ahmed’s tight performance which keeps Sound of Metal’s emotional rhythm on point.

Sound of Metal is on Amazon Prime Video UK/ROI and in UK cinemas now.

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