“The Sound Metal”
Photo | Caviar
Best Picture nominee “Sound of Metal” is a deeply moving, highly personal film anchored by an absolutely stunning performance by Riz Ahmed, who is also deservedly nominated for Best Actor. As Ruben, a recovering heroin addict who is robbed of his coping mechanism — playing music — when he suddenly loses his hearing, Ahmed creates one of the most vital, fascinating, multilayered male characters I have seen on screen.
Four years clean, Ruben has a very set routine with his girlfriend, Lou (Olivia Cooke), whose scarred arms show us she is recovering from her own problems with self-harm. The pair live in an RV and play in an avant-garde heavy metal band together, and in a few short minutes, they show us so much about their relationship and how deeply enmeshed they are in each other’s fragile sobriety and stability. Their routines are destroyed when, during one of their shows, Ruben suffers a sudden and catastrophic hearing loss.
Sound Design is an extraordinarily important part of this film. Ruben’s experience with going deaf is nightmarishly vivid and I can’t imagine anyone else other than Nicolas Becker winning this category, so this should be a lock in your office Oscar pool. He skillfully portrays the disorienting, muffled effects of the stages of hearing loss and creates some truly profound moments with silence. It is just another deeply felt aspect of this drama, which is so specific in subject matter it is absolutely fascinating.
But it is not just all the new things I learned and new points of view to consider that made “Sound of Metal’” such a deeply felt viewing experience. Ahmed’s performance was stellar, riveting and fully realized, but even in his most emotional moments, understated and real. His portrayal of a man suddenly cut off from a very strongly constructed identity resonates with a complex, very masculine vulnerability. It is somewhat “macho” in the traditional sense, but nuanced and sensitive; it’s just so multifaceted and Ahmed is brilliant and compelling.
When the depth of his hearing problems is explained by a doctor, Ruben and Lou are thrown into a tailspin, and Lou recognizes Ruben’s sobriety and their very lives are at stake with this new hurdle. His sponsor connects him with an extraordinary place, a rehab for deaf drug addicts, and Ruben finds a mentor in Joe (Paul Raci, nominated for Best Supporting Actor).
“Sound of Metal” is not a painful, grueling rehab movie. Even in its darker moments, it is more soulful than agonizing. The rehab portion of the film is actually lovely and the characters there greatly enhance this character study. Learning sign language, joining kids at a school for the deaf and experiencing many different aspects of a vibrant community brought so much love and empathy to the film. You might not have experienced any element of the struggles depicted on screen, but you will find something illuminating in it.
So different from some of the sweeping historical films nominated this year — and frankly, most years — for Best Picture, “Sound of Metal” is literally a quiet masterpiece. I have ignored the little picture of Ahmed drumming that accompanies it on Amazon Prime for months, only to finally check it out and be glued to it from the first minute. There is so much to experience in this film and the performances showed such a range and depth of human experience. It resonated tremendously with me, and it’s a journey I highly recommend.
“Sound of Metal” is streaming on Amazon Prime.
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