Filmmaker Darius Marder hasn’t done much. He received the biggest amount of exposure back in 2012 as a writer on the well received film THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES. Prior to that, he made a little seen film called LOOT back in 2008.
Following his 2020 offering, I would like to think we will see more of him in the years to come.
SOUND OF METAL was a movie in which I went into it knowing the basic premise but I wasn’t quite sure where it was going to go. I hadn’t seen a trailer and I didn’t really read any reviews that went into detail with the plot. All I kept hearing was that it was a pretty strong film with a great performance by Riz Ahmed, the British actor/rapper who had made a big name for himself on such projects as NIGHTCRAWLER and THE NIGHT OF.
The film was made available to stream on Amazon Prime back on December 4th and I watched it not long after. I feel like despite my very positive response to the film, I wanted to give some space to my thoughts before I tried to put them down for others to read.
So, before I go into my thoughts on the film, let me give you a standard synopsis to get you up to speed.
The film revolves around Rueben (Ahmed), a drummer, along with his girlfriend of 4 years named Lou (Olivia Cooke). The two of them make up a metal band called Blackgammon, and they tour the country while living out of an RV. Simply put, their lives are basically their music and each other.
During one of their concerts, Rueben begins noticing that his hearing is dissipating and despite doctors encouraging him to avoid any extensively loud noise, he still continues to play which leads to rapid hearing loss. Doctors suggest that he could get cochlear implants to reinstate some form of hearing but this is not covered by insurance and would cost Rueben at least $40,000.
From there, we learn Rueben is a recovering drug addict and Lou is concerned that the stress of his hearing loss could lead him to relapsing. At the recommendation of his Narcotics Anonymous sponsor, Rueben is sent to check out a recovery retreat run by Joe (Paul Raci) in a rural community that specializes on helping deaf addicts.
The movie then proceeds to follow Rueben on his journey within this deaf community while also battling his desire to try to get money to obtain these elusive implants.
Okay, so with that synopsis out of the way, let’s go into my thoughts:
This was a movie in which I was almost amazed by its unassuming beauty. It isn’t flashy or bombastic in its approach but it simply shows us how one might handle losing one of their senses, especially when it is a major part of their livelihood and career.
Aside from exceptions such as CHILDREN OF A LESSER GOD, it doesn’t feel like the deaf community gets much focus in film or theatre or TV. I certainly felt the film did a wonderful job at showcasing this community and gave them their due and a lot of credit has to be given to Marder & his co-writer Derek Cianfrance for the attention to detail they gave to their story and the actors involved.
Riz Ahmed is not deaf nor did he know sign language or how to drum. He spent six months prior to shooting learning to do both…and in addition to that, he was able to create such a compassionate performance.
Rueben is a character you could say is selfish or ignorant or insecure, but he is also dealing with something completely new that is going to drastically alter his life and he isn’t sure how to navigate it. Despite these tendencies that we may see in him, Ahmed is able to infuse him with a very dark vibrancy.
This is not a performance in which you are going to see someone screaming at the top of their lungs while throwing plates on the floor in defiance. Ahmed gives one of the most beautifully subtle performances I have seen in a film in quite some time…and he uses those big expressive eyes of his to great effect. It feels like a performance of such great restraint where instead of intense outbursts, we get slow doses of his emotions here and there as if he won’t completely let go and it is truly remarkable to watch him navigate this role.
As fantastic as Ahmed is, I feel like there is another performance in the film that warrants a special mention. That would be Paul Raci as Joe, the man behind the deaf community retreat that Rueben joins.
Paul Raci is not exactly an actor that is known to the masses. In fact, he still doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page (neither does writer/director Darius Marder for that matter). Raci does have full hearing but both of his parents were deaf so he learned sign language from a very young age and he remains a member of the famed Deaf West Theatre in Los Angeles.
Raci’s career has essentially been that of a day player on TV and films for the past 40 years after having served in the Vietnam War. However, despite the fact he can hear, his life experience makes him the perfect choice to play Joe.
Raci as Joe is the kind of performance where you might watch it and wonder why it is receiving the kind of praise it is getting, but once you watch him and let it sit with you afterwards, you realize that he was able to do so much by doing so little. He isn’t onscreen much but whenever he is, his strength and warmth and wisdom practically pour out of every frame. It is a prime example of how the best actors may simply never get a chance strictly because they don’t have “a name” in the business…and here, we get to see the right actor win the role.
Both Raci and Ahmed are doing fairly well with the critics award circles and while I do feel like Ahmed will end up slipping into Best Actor, I am still worried that Raci may end up missing out simply due to the politics. I am going to predict both of them to get in but I feel like both of them will face an even bigger uphill battle to win.
I sort of find myself in a weird position when discussing movies on my blog just as I would be with a show on TV or a theatrical production. I want people to read what I write but I also don’t want to spoil anything that might occur in the movie that could make the experience less profound.
The movie doesn’t take any crazy turns in plot like PARASITE for example, but I just think anything you watch benefits from knowing as little as possible about certain key aspects.
I won’t go into how the film resolves itself, but I do want to address one scene which is the last time we see Raci’s Joe. In a conversation with Rueben, Joe states to him how the concept of getting the cochlear implants goes against the beliefs of the community of which he is a part of.
Rueben, despite the progress he has made at the retreat, still doesn’t accept this new aspect of his life and his demeanor and appearance look as though, as Joe points out, he has become an addict again even if he may or may not fell off the wagon.
Joe conveys to him that there can be a certain peace, or a stillness as he puts it, that helps you cope while the rest of the “damn, cruel” world is moving along around them. He acts as if the sound of permanent silence has its own blessings:
“But for me, those moments of stillness…that place, for me, is the kingdom of God. And that place will never abandon you”.
This scene in particular struck a chord within me and even if a lot of us may not be deaf, there is a certain desire within a lot of us to find an inner sense of peace in these chaotic times.
This movie succeeded quite handily in what it set out to do and while I still have several more movies to see from this year, I have a feeling SOUND OF METAL is going to make it onto my top 10 list when all is said and done.
RATING (out of 5 stars)