Review: Sound of Metal

About a decade ago now, not long before I started out in music journalism, I popped my eardrum. I’m not really sure how it happened or even when but I do remember the feeling of absolute terror that overcame me as I thought I’d never hear out of my right ear ever again. It was a strange sensation of muffled sound that I can’t really compare or explain.

However, when watching Sound of Metal, I was immediately transported back to that time a decade ago. It isn’t often I relate to characters in film or their struggle but for the first time in a long time I did. Losing your hearing, or any sense for that matter, even temporarily, is a scary thing that your brain can’t easily process and I think this film is one of the best interpretations of that type of experience ever put on film.

Sound of Metal opens with a complete assault on the senses both audio and visually as you’re thrown head first into the life of metal drummer Ruben Stone (played by Riz Ahmed) as he plays to a small crowd while on tour before we move to the absolute calm of the morning after as he goes about his morning routine living in his RV with bandmate and girlfriend Lou.

Soon, Ruben begins to realise he is losing his hearing and we are taken on a journey of denial, anger, desperation and self discovery as Ruben begins to deal with his new reality and what it means for his life, relationships and music career. Sound of Metal pulls no punches in setting up the harsh reality of what someone in Ruben’s situation deals with and how their entire world turns upside down.

While it can be a heart breaking tale, Sound of Metal is a compelling character study that doesn’t treat hearing loss as a disability or a curse but rather something to embrace and accept. Riz Ahmed’s performance here is nothing short of mesmerising and he deserves every accolade, award and compliment sent his way for his portrayal of this character.

The supporting cast also does a terrific job as well and the other characters who find themselves part of Ruben’s journey help illustrate the feeling of belonging and acceptance in the deaf community. The feeling of family that is often forced on the audience in lesser films comes naturally and organically here.

Performances aside though, the standout element of the film is by the sound design. Speaking first hand I can tell you that this film captures the sound, or lack of sound for that matter, that hearing loss or hearing impairment brings. Those muted tones and ringing to the absolute silence that makes you feel like you’re in a soundproofed bubble is crafted to perfection here. I’ve seen other films attempt this sort of thing in the past but none have ever achieved it or hit this level of authenticity.

I’m not usually one for Oscar and Bafta nominated films not because they’re bad by any stretch, but because while the art of cinema is something that I so enjoy, truthfully I’m usually happier watching something a little more fun and light-hearted. There are enough super serious moments in life to deal with without having it displayed all over your TV screen in HD but there is something special about this film for me. Maybe it’s the personal connection I have to the subject matter or just the fact I happened to give it a chance, I don’t know but, for fans of music, for fans of cinema and for fans of sound design, Sound of Metal is an absolute must watch.

by Edward Laing