Oscar-nominated drama Sound of Metal doesn't hit a single bum note
SOUND OF METAL (15, 120 mins) Drama/Romance. Riz Ahmed, Olivia Cooke, Paul Raci, Mathieu Amalric, Lauren Ridloff, Tom Kemp. Director: Darius Marder.
Released: April 12 (streaming exclusively on Amazon Prime Video) and screening at UK cinemas from May 17
THE soundtrack to modern life for some of us is an unfinished symphony of background noise layered with indistinct voices, electrical whirrs, musical refrains and occasional percussive thuds, crashes and wallops.
Seldom can we submerge in absolute silence to focus intently on uncluttered thoughts, tendons straining or the rhythmic pulse of blood pumping around our bodies.
Nominated for six Academy Awards including Best Picture, Sound Of Metal employs thrillingly immersive sound design to convey the inner turmoil of a musician faced with a diagnosis of acute hearing loss.
Intentional muffling and abrupt changes in pitch and volume within a scene, enriched with a minimalist score, embolden a deeply visceral cinematic experience that reminds us of the things we might take for granted or simply filter out.
An uncompromising lead performance from London-born actor Riz Ahmed, Oscar-nominated alongside co-star Paul Raci, invigorates director Darius Marder's hard-hitting drama co-written by his brother Abraham.
Relying increasingly on facial expressions and gestures, Ahmed chisels away at his character's bullish bravado and denial to give us a palpable sense of the snarling rage, suffocating fear and frustration of a recovering addict, who resists letting go of his drumsticks and everything they symbolise.
The sadness when he finally acknowledges all he must sacrifice to protect himself and the person he loves is crushing.
Heavily tattooed drummer Ruben (Ahmed) and singer-guitarist girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke) are touring America in an old Airstream trailer as the punk-metal band Blackgammon when Ruben experiences ringing in his ears and then muffled quietness.
A doctor (Tom Kemp) conducts urgent tests, which reveal Ruben is registering less than 30 per cent of spoken words.
"Your first priority is to preserve the hearing you have," explains the medic, who advises Ruben to eliminate exposure to loud noises, effectively ending his music career.
Health insurance doesn't cover expensive cochlear implants and Ruben teeters on the brink of a downward spiral into drug abuse after four years of hard-fought sobriety.
His erratic and destructive behaviour also risks triggering Lou, who self-harms.
Ruben begrudgingly enrols in a residential programme for deaf recovering addicts run by Vietnam War veteran Joe (Raci), who expects the new arrival to learn American Sign Language and acknowledge that being deaf is not a handicap
"Those moments of stillness… that's the kingdom of God. That place will never abandon you," tenderly preaches Joe.
Bookended by a crashing drum cymbal and peeling church bells, Sound Of Metal beautifully illuminates Ruben's anguished odyssey from denial to acceptance in the warming embrace of the deaf community.
Sentimental riffs composed around a schoolteacher (Lauren Ridloff) and her class of cherubic moppets creep into the second half but Ahmed and co-star Raci don't strike a single false note.