Academy Awards season: “Sound of Metal” review

Arts & Entertainment

A mostly spoiler-free rundown of the Oscar nominee

Nolen Kelly, Staff

Header image: New York Times

Riz Ahmed was announced as one of the candidates for the coveted “Best Actor in a Leading Role” category for his performance as Ruben in “Sound of Metal,” making him the first Muslim actor to nab the achievement and I could not be more excited. I have been a fan of Ahmed for a while and I knew it was only a matter of time before he found that one role as his breakout performance. He had a not-so-memorable appearance as Bodhi Rook in the “Star Wars” spinoff movie “Rogue One,” but had a solid supporting role as Rick in the Jake Gyllenhaal thriller, “Nightcrawler” (2014). After seeing a promotional image of Ahmed as Ruben for this film it grabbed my attention as he put on a few pounds of muscle then copy and pasted Justin Timberlake’s bleached blonde ramen hair from his NSYNC days. “Sound of Metal” is about a drummer for an experimental metal band who starts going deaf and must deal with the repercussions.

I kind of expected this to be a spiritual sequel to “Whiplash” (2014) but really the only through line between the two is that they share a character dedicated to drumming. As I previously stated in the description of the movie, Ruben begins going deaf and his struggle through the movie is to either regain his hearing, continuing to drum with his ailment, or give up drumming forever. Along for the ride is his longtime girlfriend, Lou, who is the vocalist for their band. She is part of his motivation and acts as his voice of reason throughout the film. 

Amazon Prime Video

Before I get into everything else, I thought Lou was very underappreciated in this movie. “Sound of Metal” is absolutely the ‘Riz Ahmed Show,’ but Olivia Cooke’s performance as Lou was pretty heartbreaking; she had to figure out not only what was best for Ruben, but  also had to figure out what it meant for their band and for them as a couple. Although Ruben is the main character, I do not think this story would have happened, or happened the way it did, without Lou. 

I enjoyed this movie a lot. This was a very simple story and it conveyed all of the right emotions at the right times. There was not any point throughout that I was not fully engaged with the story and the characters because I just wanted to know “What’s next?” It is not an intricate or complicated story by any means, but it is just so unabashedly human and sympathetic that it is easy to lose yourself in the story. I will not spoil the end of the movie because I think it is best to just watch and enjoy it without knowing. But, by the end of the movie, I felt like I was on the same page with Ruben. After everything we saw him go through to get to where he is it feels like he made the right decision at the end of the film. One aspect I really loved about this movie is that I started off just watching it casually, but by the end I became so engrossed I felt like I was a part of Ruben’s journey. 

This movie is driven by its performances and all of them are very strong. I have talked about him a lot already, but Ahmed as Ruben is so great. He is not stoic. He is not calm. He is not okay. Ruben has this rare character trait where he has a reasonable reaction to all of the panic and uncertainty that happens to him. Not many characters that I know of from other shows or movies react to their story in a way that exemplifies what a human would feel in that situation and instead try to figure out how to move on. When Ruben realizes he really is deaf he has a scene in his RV with Lou that feels like I really am watching someone struggle. 

“I can’t hear you. I can’t ******* hear you. I’m ******* deaf.” Ruben says to Lou as he loses his grasp on what keeps him stable. As I am writing this review I realize now that Ruben approaches his new deafness through the five stages of grief similarly to the way someone deals with loss. He denies it, becomes angry, bargains with his people, becomes sad and finally just accepts himself in his own way. The movie is not saying being deaf is like dying, but in Ruben’s position as a drummer and someone who has needed and relied on their hearing, deafness was death. 

That Shelf

There is not too much else I can really talk about without giving the plot away. I think this movie is something that should be watched and enjoyed without knowing too much else plot-wise. Again, it is not at all a complicated story, it just feels better to see the story through. It is a very character-driven film and all of the characters are so engaging, you just want the best for everyone in any situation. This movie is a fantastic examination of what sound and the lack of sound can do for people and is now available on Amazon Prime. I left this movie having an appreciation for sounds, silence and communication through sign language and hopefully everyone else will too. “Sound of Metal” is very much worth the watch and I would say this movie was a solid “Excellent” on my scale. 

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