Movies are stuck in certain patterns. The stories these patterns lead to rarely turn out to relate to hard of hearing people, which is the first defining point of Sound of Metal when it comes to its uniqueness. The first feature film and also the second screenplay by Darius Marder revolves around Ruben (Riz Ahmed), a drummer in a two-person band with his partner Lou (Olivia Cooke). Events quickly unfold near the start of the movie when Ruben loses his hearing. This realization leads him to seek medical advice, where he is confronted with the bitter truth that the remainder of his hearing ranges from 20 to 30 percent. In a desperate bid to find comfort, Ruben ends up in a facility where deafness is not to be fixed but accepted so that people hard of hearing can make most of their lives.
Sound of Metal therefore spends little time with how deafness in this particular case occurs; Marder is clearly focused on how to come to terms with this issue that appears out of thin air, changing everything. The few successive sequences at the beginning of the movie, switching between the stage and Ruben’s daily routines, portray the genesis of the issue and how unexpected it is extraordinarily well. Ahmed’s subtle performance contributes to the overall effect beautifully.
In fact, nothing in Ahmed’s acting is blown out of proportion. It is modest, and furthermore, it is discreet. He does not illustrate a character with bursts of emotion, but rather a character who is trying to process his drastically altered life. Ruben seems more so like a person rather than a character as the audience witnesses his newly-developing traumatic challenge. Even if they are not up to the standards set by Ahmed, none of the performances of the supporting actors are inadequate. Especially Paul Raci, in the role of Joe, does a great job when it comes to his already rich character. Furthermore, Olivia Cooke deserves praise for her portrayal of Lou, as does Lauren Ridloff with her portrayal of Diane.
Early in the movie, it is revealed that Ruben used to be a drug addict, and he had been clean for four years, which coincides with how long he had been with Lou. From the onset of this revelation, Marder does not abstain from drawing parallels between being an addict and losing one’s hearing. He does so without even diminishing the relevance of either experience to Ruben; he only points to certain similarities while being very subtle about it, keeping it in the background for the most of the movie, yet still bringing it up at times he considers it fitting.
Sound, as it goes for almost every movie, is a source of tension, which Marder clearly puts a lot of effort and thought into, as is apparent from tranquil dialogues to emphatic sound effects. Marder also does not hold back from distorting the audience’s perspective by switching between the sound a person without hearing difficulties would hear, and the sound a person with hearing difficulties would. Sound mixing in both cases simulates the difference very realistically. The experimental aesthetic of the sound only enriches the already in-depth aspect of the whole approach and does not stand out in any negative way.
Even though the movie leaves little room for any criticism, there is still the issue of production design being somewhat limited in detail; one would not go as far as to say it is stale; on the contrary, it fits the serene feeling in every corner. Still, with the focus of Sound of Metal being acting and sound, it is clear that the production design pales in comparison to some degree. Furthermore, even though Marder keeps up the stable pace throughout the entire runtime of the movie, there are still a few sequences that feel a little unpolished, as the direction the movie wants to take is at times unclear.
Nevertheless, Sound of Metal stands out from the crowd with its one of a kind approach to sound, its tranquil atmosphere, and the incredible performances by its cast. Marder seems to be on track to being a great director since his first piece is such a unique experience, with its quality never ceasing throughout its progression. The depth Sound of Metal has is the kind that audiences do not come across very often, thus Marder deserves all the praise he receives for his film.