Review by Katie McKenna
The first shot in Sound of Metal (Darius Marder, 2020) looks eerily familiar: a slow zoom in on a drummer as he begins to play. There are very few films about drummers so it is hard not to draw the obvious comparison. I am, of course, talking about the 2011 children’s animated film, Hop (Tim Hill).
Sound of Metal follows Ruben (Riz Ahmed), a heavy-metal drummer who begins to lose his hearing and must learn to cope with his new life. It is a small but strikingly intimate story. Writer-director Marder’s only previous screenwriting credit is Derek Cianfrance’s The Place Beyond the Pines (2012) and those who have seen that generation-spanning tale may be surprised at how small this new story is by comparison. However, this is completely to Sound of Metal’s benefit. One of the biggest flaws in The Place Beyond the Pines is how rushed it is at the end, as it races to the finish line with too many main characters to get invested in. Sound of Metal doesn’t suffer from any of these problems. Instead, it moves slowly, immersing us more and more into its detailed world.
Essentially, this is Ahmed’s film. He gives a powerful and understated performance. The film rarely shows intense emotions but its scarcity only gives it more weight – like the one “F-bomb” allowed in a PG-13 movie. Ahmed’s character is surrounded by a colourful supporting cast, with one of the standouts being Paul Raci’s Joe, the leader of a community of deaf recovering addicts. Throughout the film, we are given glimpses into other character’s pasts – a small bite to get us interested – and then we move on. It creates a world that feels rich and lived in without losing its laser focus on Ruben.
The cinematography, while solid, is nothing to write home about. It is easy to see how Marder’s documentary roots influenced this film. The camera feels more like an observer, watching these characters live their everyday life. The real star of the film is its sound design. We are put directly into Ruben’s head, creating the sense that we are experiencing his hearing loss with him. It completely immerses us in Ruben’s world and makes us feel like we are going deaf too. There’s one particular scene at the very end, where the sound design is used perfectly, and it hits you like a tonne of bricks.