Film Reviews

“A Fundamental Story About The Human Condition” – Film Review: Sound of Metal

Alex Watkin

I’m not deaf. I’m not a drummer. Yet, Darius Marder’s Sound of Metal feels like a film made for me and I know it will stick with me forever. The film is a character study about drummer Ruben Stone (Riz Ahmed), who loses his hearing and is faced with the prospect of a life of silence. All the elements of the film’s context throughout its 121-minute runtime are all exceedingly well drawn. Through specificity it achieves credibility and allows the viewer to properly engage in the substance of the characters.

For me, it is a story about a compulsive doer, someone who can’t sit still without a crippling sense of wasting time.  Unexpectedly, I would label Sound of Metal as a coming-of-age story. However, it is certainly not a typical one; what we have here is a story of accepting your limitations and nevertheless finding fulfilment.

The film provides much needed representation for the deaf community in cinema

As you may be aware, the film provides much needed representation for the deaf community in cinema. It never draws attention to its progressiveness; the film simply runs with it and remains focused on what matters for the story. The film, on script level and in editing, is so finely crafted that it effortlessly synergises to a point of holistic simplicity. In other words, the film knows exactly what it is and cuts all the fluff.

Particular portions of this film could have easily felt like baggy stuffing. What maintains the investment in these sections is Ruben’s conflict. Riz Ahmed never lets this conflict slip from the eyes of Ruben. His performance is intense and in the hands of a less skilled actor could have easily been wholly dislikeable; Ahmed brings both a bite to Ruben and importantly a sensitivity.

It is sadly rare to see a film where the medium feels completely essential. Sound of Metal is an exception. The use of sound manipulation fashions a subjective POV only possible in film. That being said, once Ruben goes deaf the film doesn’t play out in complete silence, instead the film’s sound switches from imitating Ruben’s deafness to a more omnipresent perspective, where the audience can still hear. Thankfully, it never betrays Ruben’s POV completely; the audience always remains close by and we are never given access to anything he doesn’t experience.

I think it is a fair criticism to say that the film should commit more wholeheartedly to the deaf POV. For some it will feel like the film shies away from what could have been a more challenging and ultimately a more interesting version. The switching in most cases is edited very loosely and seems to be based on intuition and emotion. Thankfully, the film remains consistent with the mechanics of its POV so once you accept the conceit, it’s very easy to move past.

Moreover, by the end, I found myself appreciating the switching because it reconfirms Ruben’s struggles and conflict. Perhaps, if the film stuck to the deaf perspective, it oddly would have lost its impact as you would slowly adjust like you would watching a silent film. Ruben won’t allow himself to be complicit in his deafness, the switching prevents this happening to the audience.

The film doesn’t rely on dialogue and doesn’t emotionally manipulate its viewer with silly sentimental music

Similarly, there are other ways the film doesn’t confine itself with ideological creative decisions. The film doesn’t rely on dialogue and doesn’t emotionally manipulate its viewer with silly sentimental music. In fact, the most profound moments are often those in complete silence. Nevertheless, the film doesn’t allow this subtlety to come at the expense of drama. At the appropriate times there are hard hitting verbal exchanges, where characters make clear exactly how they feel. These give the film its punch and excitement. The film’s drama is both entertaining and interesting.

Sound of Metal, like Riz Ahmed’s central performance, has both grit and sensitivity. Through a specific context it finds a fundamental story about the human condition, which tightly assembles itself towards an especially beautiful ending. I will definitely be watching it again.

4 and a half stars

Alex Watkin

Featured image courtesy of Cristian Ungureanu via Flickr. Image license found here. No changes made to this image.

In-article images courtesy of @soundofmetaluk via No changes made to these images.

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