Riz Ahmed as Rubin is a drummer in a heavy metal band with singer-guitarist Lou played by Olivia Cooke. They are a team both off and on stage. Living out of a converted RV, they are touring the US with their performances. It’s a perfect life until one day Ruben’s hearing dismisses drastically. As he visits a doctor, he is informed that he has already lost over 80 per cent of his hearing and he will soon be deaf. He is advised to avoid loud noise, which he ignores and next thing we know he is hearing impaired. Just overnight, his world falls apart. There’s an option of getting cochlear implants but that would cost a bomb. Ruben and Lou panic. While Ruben is worried about what next, Lou fears her boyfriend might go back to drugs (Ruben is an ex-heroin addict). It arouses empathy and despair in equal measures.
With not many options at hand, on the advice of their sponsor and to please his girlfriend, Ruben joins a remote community for recovering deaf addicts. The retreat is headed by Joe (Paul Raci), a Vietnam War veteran. At first, he struggles and then after much effort he settles. So, away from the world, is this a new lease of life for Ruben or will his desperation to be with his love and regain his hearing bring more turmoil?
With an extraordinary lead performance, Darius Marder’s Sound of Metals is a dialogue between silence and noise. It isn’t just dealing with hearing loss but deftly highlights addiction and identity crisis. The devil is in the detail and in this film Darius has created a world where every detail rings true. It becomes a deeper experience, thanks to the intricate sound design. The change in sounds, from when Ruben is a punk drummer to the muffled noises as he loses his hearing, set the tone of confusion and helplessness. Then there are subtle references that can’t be missed.
In Darius’ world, the hero is Riz Ahmed. His performance is rock solid with his body being an extension of his role wherever every expression is worth a million words. His anger, desperation, hopelessness and eventually acceptance are credible.
The other actors in the film are equally believable and have played their part with much sincerity. Olivia Cooke’s as Lou is lovely in this understated performance. Paul Raci as Joe brings that authenticity to the idea of making peace with what is. Sound of metal is a marvel of a film that is deeply engaging and thought provoking.
Streaming on Amazon Prime Video.