AFI FEST 2020: Sound of Metal

Riz Ahmed as Ruben in SOUND OF METAL. Courtesy of Amazon Studios.

Riz Ahmed delivers a captivating performance as a heavy metal drummer that is beginning to lose his hearing in Sound of Metal.

Within the film’s opening minutes Ruben (Riz Ahmed) is experiencing hearing loss.  At the beginning, the loss is intermittent but as any musician knows from experience, it will only get worse.  This is exactly what happens as the plot moves forward.  However, technology has advanced to where Ruben is set on pursuing a cochlear implant for his ears.  In Ruben’s case, he’s not just a musician but he’s a recovering heroin addict and has been sober for four years.  Because of his heroin addiction, Ruben’s girlriend and bandmate, Lou (Olivia Cooke), decides to check him into a sober house for the death.  Is this in Ruben’s best interest?  Only time will tell.

The other members of the community welcome Ruben in.  House manager Joe (Paul Raci) sees to it that he lives by the rules.  Ruben starts learning ASL and even deaf children how to play drums.  Even though it takes him time to get acclimated, Ruben still wants his old life back.  The cochlear implant won’t be the be all-end all given that the sounds are going to be distorted.  At the same time, there is a chance that Ruben might never be able to play drums again.

This is a passion project for filmmaker Darius Marder with a script in the works for over a decade.  It shows throughout the entire picture as Marder takes us into Ruben’s head.  Marder makes sure to cast members of the deaf community.  Nicolas Becker’s sound design should be an awards contender in a year where the usual suspects are getting a theatrical delay.  The sound design accompanying Sound of Metal is among the most exquisite to accompany any film in 2020.  Don’t adjust the volume on your TV because this is intentional on the part of the filmmakers.  They want the audience to the sounds of the film as Ruben hears them.  At times, we’re hearing nothing but silence or muffled silence because this is how Ruben is hearing the world around him.

In terms of casting, the film mostly focuses on deaf actors.  In some instances, however, Marder looked outside the deaf community.  Paul Raci grew up as the son of two deaf parents and like his character in the film, he is also a Vietnam veteran.

This is a film that first premiered last year during the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival.  In a perfect world, Amazon Studios would have released it this past summer.  Alas, Covid-19 happened and the film is playing an extended festival run on the circuit.

DIRECTOR:  Darius Marder
SCREENWRITERS:  Darius Marder & Abraham Marder
CAST:  Riz Ahmed, Olivia Cooke, Paul Raci, with Lauren Ridloff and Mathieu Almaric

Sound of Metal screens during the 2020 AFI FEST in the World Cinema program. Amazon will release in theaters on November 20 and Prime Video on December 4, 2020. Grade: 4/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.