Reuben (Riz Ahmed) and Lou (Olivia Cooke) play their own punk metal: Lou plays the guitar and sings, Reuben plays the drum kit. They don’t settle anywhere in one place: Ruben has his own camper, that is, a “home on wheels”, in which they move along with their equipment, and they live in it, and both of them are quite satisfied with this state of affairs. But everything changes when Ruben suddenly realizes that his drum kit is getting muffled and it is already difficult for him to hear other people.
He goes to the doctor, and after a series of tests, he tells Ruben very bad news: Ruben hears no more than 28% with his right ear, and even less with his left – about 24%, and this does not depend on the volume at which he listens. He will not recover his hearing, and the only option to keep what he has is to completely give up any loud sounds.
When asked by Ruben if there is any way that would restore his hearing, the doctor explains that it is possible to perform an operation that bypasses the ear canal, after which it will be possible to use special hearing aids, but the operation is complex and very expensive – it will cost from $40 to $ 80 thousand – and insurance is not covered.
While Reuben is just beginning to go through the first of five stages of accepting the inevitable, Lou, who realizes that their old life is irretrievably coming to an end, is looking for a place for Reuben to help him. And she finds a home in the middle of nowhere, one Joe (Paul Racy), who is teaching hard of hearing and deaf people to live in a new reality.
The peculiarity of life in the shelter is that the community lives in isolation from the rest of the world. They don’t watch TV, they don’t use the Internet – Joe thinks it’s better that way. Thus, Ruben will not only have to remain alone in the community, without Lou, but he will actually not be able to communicate with her at least somehow.
Ruben initially refuses to settle in the community: she and Lou have a very close relationship, they have been through a lot together, and besides, Lou will simply have nowhere to live, because she is in a quarrel with her father. But Lou understands perfectly well that both of them have no other choice: Reuben must settle in Joe’s community, and she must return to her father.
Interestingly, this is the directorial debut of Darius Marder, who was previously known as a screenwriter: in particular, he wrote the script for Derek Cienfranc’s famous film “The Place Beyond the Pines”. (Cienfrance, by the way, also directed the excellent film Valentine.) Darius co-wrote the script for this film with his brother Abraham and Derek Cienfrance.
The title “The Sound of Metal” (this time the United Statesn distributors did not misrepresent the original title) and the actor Riz Ahmet as a drummer on the poster give a somewhat misleading impression: from this we can conclude that the film is about a drummer playing in the style of metal, but far Not everyone is interested in this at all.
However, I like Riz Ahmet, he is a very good character actor (he is also a rapper, by the way, and also has degrees in philosophy, politics and economics from the University of Oxford), and the fact that the film in this year 2021 has a nomination for ” Golden Globe” and as many as six nominations for “Oscar” (these nominations can turn into prizes, because the voting for the “Oscar” has not passed yet), made an impression, so I decided to watch the picture.
Literally at the very beginning of the viewing, it became clear that this was not at all about the drummer of a metal band. (Yes, their band Blackgammon is not metal, but a kind of punk metal.) The film is divided, as it were, into three unequal parts. The first is a short story of Reuben and Lou (actually, we only learn their full story at the very end of the film, although some hints will be given in the process) and how Reuben received a terrible diagnosis. The second part is his stay at Joe’s shelter and how Ruben gradually begins to integrate into a completely new life for him and, in turn, becomes necessary and useful to the residents of the shelter. Well, the third part is Ruben’s attempt to return to his former life.
Honestly, when you watch this film, you just can’t believe that this is a directorial debut. Because it rarely happens with debutants that they know exactly what they want to stage and how exactly they want to stage it. And Darius Marder knows this well: the production is very confident, well thought out, and it was shot by a master, not a beginner. (I don’t know if Derek Cienfrance, who is also an executive producer in the film, may have played a part in this, but I don’t know if he was involved in the production in any way or not.)
The acting work of the main characters of the picture is amazingly good! Riz Ahmet had the most difficult role: his hero learns a terrible diagnosis, his familiar world is collapsing, he has to accept the inevitable, but he is not looking for sympathy, he will fight. But what he is fighting for and whether it was necessary to fight at all is another question, but here everyone is destined to go their own way.
Excellent role: powerful, very emotional, without any theatricality, extremely realistic. And Riz Ahmet showed how different he can be: compare, for example, the periodically completely withdrawn Nasir Khan from One Night, the silly terrorist Omar from The Four Lions and the romantic chemist Hermann Worm from The Sisters Brothers.
Here, a lot of things rest on him, and this is really an outstanding role! I won’t spoil it – since the creators of the picture give out information about Ruben and Lou very gradually, then I don’t need to reveal any details – but some time after the first viewing of this film, I re-watched several important episodes. And how different they look when you have certain information, and how much more vividly the acting is perceived when you understand the background of the relationship of their characters!
Lou was played by actress Olivia Cooke. I’ve seen her before in Spielberg’s Ready Player One, but the computer game characters played a major role there and I didn’t really remember her there. Here is a completely different matter. She does not have many episodes, but Olivia played a vivid and memorable role. The episodes are very well played when Lou finds out that her Ruben is deaf, a great scene after visiting the shelter, when Ruben goes through the stage of anger and tries by any means to save what he has, well, very subtly, accurately and touchingly played scenes in finale, where Ruben tries to return to his former life.
Actor Paul Racy (I wonder why they called him Paul Raji on IMDB?), who played the head of the shelter Joe – a former alcoholic who lost his hearing after a bomb went off when he fought in Vietnam – was extremely liked. I used to see him in episodic roles in famous TV shows (“Clinic”, “Ambulance”, “Las Vegas”), but he was not really remembered there, but here he has a very prominent role. Joe has lost everything in this life, and he gives all his strength to ensure that deaf people, among whom there are also many former drug addicts and alcoholics, can live a normal life.
He likes Ruben, he sees that Ruben is very useful to his shelter, where he helps a lot and where people are drawn to him, but he cannot let Ruben change the mood of these people: they are in the shelter in order to adapt to life without hearing, and Ruben is trying to get out of this life. And there is a very poignant scene of their conversation when Joe asks Reuben to leave the community and at the same time he cannot hold back his tears. It was amazingly well played, there was not the slightest falseness in this scene!
Well, I note that the actor Paul Racy himself grew up in a family of hearing-impaired parents, while he himself has normal hearing, so he first learned to speak sign language and only then (at the age of six) learned to speak. And Paul himself often acts as an interpreter in communication with deaf people, so this role is very close to him – and it is very visible!
When I looked at the list of actors, I kept thinking, and Mathieu Amalric, a famous French actor, who is playing here? It turned out – Lou’s father, who is actually Louise, she is French. (This is a spoiler, but a very small one.) There are also two good episodes with Amalrik in the film, but I will not disclose the details here.
A separate discussion deserves how Ruben’s problems with hearing are shown in the picture. With this, the creators of the picture worked very seriously, and the result really impressed me. When viewers are shown Reuben’s perception of the world, the soundtrack demonstrates how Reuben perceives external sounds. How he perceived them when he began to lose his hearing, when he got to the shelter, when he got the opportunity to hear something – this is really a masterpiece! There is no point in retelling it, you just need to hear it.
And you can read (or listen to) the details of how the work with sound was done, as well as how this film was created in general, in Mikhail Kozyrev’s interview with the film’s producer Sasha Ben Harrosh (I saw this interview when I had almost completed the review, it was very interesting to listen to.
I really enjoyed it: outstanding film, great production, great acting, amazing sound work. Everything is very vital, realistic, dramatic, but at the same time – optimistic. Because you can always find yourself even in completely new, albeit very difficult, circumstances – this is what this film is talking about. He also says that any, even the closest and most touching relationship tends to end. Because this is life, but where to go?!
Don’t miss this movie, it’s definitely worth it!
PS In many scenes of this film, real hard of hearing and deaf people starred… From Riz Ahmed, the director demanded that the actor himself learned to play the drums – he really studied, and he plays in the film himself. Riz Ahmed also learned sign language, which is used by deaf people, and knows how to use it quite well.
Sound of Metal movie review
Director: Darius Marder Cast: Riz Ahmed, Olivia Cooke, Paul Racy, Mathieu Amalric, Lauren Ridloff, Jamie Hazarian, Chris Perfetti, William Xifaras, Hillary Buck, Michael Thaw
Drama, USA-Belgium, 2019, 120 min.