Sound of Metal is set to premiere tomorrow on Amazon Prime. As with so many films this year, it is a shame it won't get a theatrical release. The sound design is so immersive, it would have been an experience to see it with a big sound system. Darius Marder's narrative debut is a flawed film but one that successfully gets inside its main character's head. The sound design is one way. The other is Riz Ahmed's fantastic performance.
The film's early moments introduce us to Ruben (Ahmed), a metal drummer on tour with his girlfriend and singer in the band Lou (Olivia Cooke). They live out of an airstream RV, traveling from gig to gig. Both of them are recovering addicts. Things are going well with the band. Then one night, on stage, Ruben suddenly can't hear anything. His hearing returns but soon it happens again and his hearing doesn't come back. His doctor tells him to stay away from loud noises. Loud noises are Ruben's life.
As Ruben, Ahmed portrays every layer of rage, frantic energy, and sadness with vivid accuracy. Ruben wants to deny what is happening to him. His whole is changing. He wants a solution and he thinks there is one with implants. They are expensive though. Lou hits the road and Ruben checks into a sober house for the deaf. He clashes there with the house leader Joe. Joe wants him to accept his deafness. Ruben wants the implants and a return to his old life.
The sound design by Nicolas Baker is astonishing. From the loud opening of drums and guitar to the muffled chattering of people around him. It truly gives you a sense of the loss Ruben goes through, of the confusion of his new situation. The camera often follows Ruben around, centering his head in the middle of the frame as if to further signal we are in his head.
Narratively, the film feels underwritten. The ending doesn't feel entirely earned even if Ahmed sells it. Ruben doesn't seem the type to accept his situation with such enlightenment. There is also the introduction of his father (Mathieu Almaric) in the third act that never comes together with the rest of the film. Nevertheless, Ahmed's performance is a must-see and truly one of the best of the year. Watch with headphones.