Sound of Metal Speaks Volumes

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Riz Ahmed stars as Ruben Stone in “Sound of Metal,” directed by Darius Marder. Photo Courtesy/ YouTube Amazon Prime Video

Streaming platforms have allowed countless great films to make their way to audiences at home throughout the past year. “Sound of Metal,” Darius Marder’s directorial debut (which was distributed by Amazon Studios through its Prime service in November), surely stands as one of the best films of the past year. 

The film follows punk-rock drummer and former addict Ruben Stone (Riz Ahmed), who is losing his hearing. It grows into a potent tale of the oscillations between clinging on to a previous life and accepting a new one brought upon by life’s uncertainties.

The film is propelled by a stunning performance from Ahmed. In a time where so many actors meander incessantly, Ahmed is refreshingly convincing in every scene, with a tangibility in each reaction to the daunting choices that shroud his character’s future. Without his drums and his girlfriend/lead singer of his band, Lou (Olivia Cooke) there’s an impending sense that Ruben could relapse into addiction and Lou into self-harm. It’s evident that the two are integral to each other’s survival and Cooke and Ahmed compliment each other well as their relationship falls into uncertainty.

Few actors can tell so much without uttering a word and using their eyes and facial expressions as Ahmed does throughout, making every scene so intricate. The past year saw several superb performances from notable actors, but Ahmed delivers the best performance of all, garnering  several top honors at indie and regional film festivals thus far, including the Gotham Award for Best Actor. The film’s final scene is especially indelible thanks to Ahmed’s brilliance, providing a pensive commentary on the illusion of control in life and the proposition of embracing it.

A standout component of the film comes in its representation of deaf actors and the remarkable sound design. As Ruben’s hearing rapidly deteriorates, the film switches audio perspectives between Ruben’s muffled and dim personal hearing, to the standard audio around him the audience hears, further buttressing the loss of control in his life. Ruben, at Lou’s request, ventures to a bucolic deaf community in the midst of sobriety, headed by Joe (Paul Raci). Raci, whose parents were both deaf, is fluent in American Sign Language, which the film uses aptly. 

Raci has also garnered acclaim for his endearing performance and will surely be a leading contender for supporting actor accolades. Joe shows Ruben the cordial environment he’s anchored and the camaraderie and meaning present in every person’s life within the community. Deafness isn’t a disability to be fixed in Joe’s community. In Raci and Ahmed’s poignant final scene together, Joe reveals that the deaf community actually listens and communicates with the greatest detail.