In many movies, inanimate objects, concepts or ideas, and even the weather or landscape can be an extremely important “member” of the cast. In Darius Marder’s Sound of Metal, sound itself takes a starring role.
Starring Emmy-award winning British actor Riz Ahmed and Bates Motel actress Olivia Cooke, Sound of Metal tells the story of Ruben (Ahmed) and Lou (Cooke), who travel the country in their RV, performing “screamer band” concerts for an underground following that seems to thrive on the intense message of songs, as well as the decibel level of the concerts. When Ruben awakes one morning to a strange ringing in his ears, it becomes evident something is wrong.
Doctors are consulted. Ruben is told that the rapidly deteriorating situation will soon become absolute. A small glimmer of hope in the form of costly cochlear implants is suggested, and something Ruben holds onto throughout the rest of the story.
As I said before, audiences are drawn in as more than observers due to the role of sound in this picture. From the opening scenes of ear-splitting music, to muffled voices and ringing, to sizzling static and ultimately, silence: we are part of the story in a way most likely never experienced by movie goers. It is a brilliant and complex use of the movie soundscape.
Cooke is exquisite, beautiful, delicate and intense as Lou. As Lou, she speaks volumes with her wide-eyed, terrorized and blank expressions. Her devotion to Ruben is genuine and raw; a horrible kind of deep, loyal love.
Ahmed deserves an Oscar nomination. His portrayal of Ruben is a study in ferocious desperation. At times, his wide-eyed, jittery performance indicative of a recovering addict is so real and so believable that the audience has no other choice than to be mesmerized. Even during happier times in the movie, Ahmed portrays Ruben as a person who might have his life unravel at any moment, a caged animal who would like to flee if he weren’t held prisoner by the frame of his new normal. At times tragic, hopeful, distressed, and urgent at the same time, Ahmed’s Ruben leads us to a conclusion that hits us smack dab in the face: acceptance of the card we are dealt is the most important component of moving on in life.
See this picture. I am in hopes that it will not be overlooked or overshadowed. It deserves to be at the top of the heap this year.
“Sound of Metal” opens in theaters on Nov. 20 and begins streaming on Amazon Prime on Dec. 4. It is rated R for brief nudity and profanity. Running time is 130 minutes.
My grade: A.