Review: Sound of Metal (15)

Arnojya Shree reviews the latest film from Amazon Prime as "exemplary of good filmmaking"

Arnojya Shree
13th December 2020
In a world of multiple films releasing every Friday, it is rare to come across one which leaves behind an imprint to last a lifetime.

However, Darius Marder's Sound of Metal, certainly does. With a near-perfect sense of direction, story and casting to cinematography and soundtrack, every element of the film comes together to weave a brilliant narrative, and is exemplary of good filmmaking.

Riz Ahmed plays the role of Ruben, a metal drummer from an up and coming band whose austere lifestyle involves driving around in his RV, doing gigs from place-to-place with his bandmate and girlfriend, Lou. However, deafness arrives like an uninvited guest into Ruben's life on a quaint afternoon and shakes the paradise upside down. Muffled and incoherent sounds struggle to pass-through and become increasingly obscure, leaving Ruben in a panicked and scared state as he rushes out mid-performance.

We are not witnessing a story, but a person

With the world growing silent around him, the riffs of fright rise loud, and Ruben meets a Doctor. After finding out that there is no hope for his hearing to make a comeback, he lets Lou into his existential breakdown. But, how long can scribbles on paper, kicking the instruments and screamed agony go on for? According to Doctor's advice and despite Ruben's protests, Lou manages to get him to a local program run by Joe, a deaf war-veteran for the deaf community, who also struggled with addictions. Joe insists that this program is for people to realise that being deaf is not a disability, something which desires change or a fixing; instead, it's about "learning how to be deaf." However, adept to his normal hearing, we helplessly watch an anguished Ruben detest, despise and struggle as remains unhinged to accept his reality.

Image Credit: IMDb

This film is what I like to think of as a character film. The story is impressive, but the heavy-weight character of Ruben takes up so much space that after a while I, as an audience, realised that I am not witnessing a story but a person. This understanding fits in quite well for me because Riz Ahmed's Ruben is such a wonderfully distraught character that the narrative fails to catch up to him. Even though the film could somewhat be identified as a slow-burn, distant gaps in the storyline are made up by the characters.

Riz Ahmed is nothing short of a miracle when it comes to acting

Exclusively, two kinds of shots dominate the visual space, namely, over the shoulder and eye-level shots. Moreover, most scenes allow Ruben to take up space within its visual landscape. Riz Ahmed is nothing short of a miracle when it comes to acting but, in a character film, even more so. With Ruben, he presents the example of the most versatile, intense and pure embodiment of a character. Ahmed acts with his body more than his dialogues. Not that there are many in the film but, they aren't needed either. Even more so, Ahmed acts with his eyes and face twitches even more than the rest of his body. Allowing himself to act as an instrument bringing out the terrifying feeling of fighting, uneasiness, fear and denial, he switches from one emotion to another with the flutter of an eyelash.

Image Credit: IMDb

I would also like to point out the most exciting part of Marder's direction in the film. His collaboration with Ahmed and the camera presents two alternative ideas of viewing the movie for the audience. The shot compositions firstly allow you to feel as if at all times, it is either a voyeuristic omnipresent entity watching Ruben or its Ruben himself. Alternatively, by the end of the film, it seems as if the voyeuristic entity is Ruben himself, surrounded in complete silence, with eyes fixed on the sun and the kids skating across the road, calmly replaying the events of the past few months in his head and receiving the lesson of "stillness" Joe taught him once.

The aural component of the film provided by Nicolas Becker is undoubtedly brilliant because since the start it keeps you affixed to Ruben's perspective, hearing only what he does except for a select few moments. Designed around Ruben, the muffled, loud, noisy and high-pitched ringing disorient the audience just as much as the protagonist himself, allowing the film to ultimately become a character film. This is not a tale to witness; instead, it's Ruben's world, and we are just living it for the entirety of two consuming hours.

Rating: 4/5

Feature image credit: IMDb

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