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Sound of Metal ★★★★★



Director: Darius Marder

Cast: Riz Ahmed, Olivia Cooke, Paul Raci, Lauren Ridloff and Mathieu Amalric

Released: 17th May 2021 in UK Cinemas

What began as an eight-year passion project for director Darius Marder became a marvel for the drama genre. Sound of Metal broke through all the noise of the past year’s releases and redefined mental health in film. After drummer Ruben (Riz Ahmed) rapidly starts to lose his hearing, he battles to adjust to his new normal. His girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke) ultimately helps to check him into a home led by Joe (Paul Raci), a deaf veteran.

Ahmed’s portrayal is raw and accurately messy, as Ruben spirals in an attempt to ‘fix’ himself. The frustration with past addictions and the need to work as a musician comes across well; he effectively appears suffocated. Equally, Raci’s performance as the observant Joe leaves a lasting impression. It was a cathartic experience watching the story unfold. No matter what your circumstances are, anyone can relate to feeling lost and powerless.

Deafness is never painted as something that needs mending, a testament to Marder’s script. It lifts up the characters personal experiences; this is also largely due to the casting. Actors who are a part of the Deaf community elevate the plot and debunk that it’s impossible to hire performers who are in a similar situation to the characters. Representation was vital in this film and Marder delivered. The director’s personal connection to the subject matter heightens the message as it meant no shortcuts when it came to maintaining accuracy.  “It was important to me that the film was genuine and visceral in its approach, and that this story provides a window into a culture and way of life that encapsulates so many people: Deaf, hard of hearing, and CODA (Children of Deaf Adults). In order to create an authentic experience of deafness, Riz wore custom devices in his ears that emitted a white noise of varying intensity, thus allowing him to experience the closest approximation to progressive deafness that we could simulate, including the inability to hear even his own voice.”, Marder revealed in a statement.

Sound of Metal doesn’t rely on flashy twists to be effective, but that in no way means it is quiet. Opening on a hardcore metal number shows that from the offset. While there is a disconnect between the brilliantly chaotic start and the toned-down main act, somehow it lands. Scenes that omit sound, for instance, force attention to minute details that would otherwise have gone unnoticed.  

The fact that Marder shot the film chronologically proves this is no ordinary production. The viewers go on the journey along with the actors in real-time. This is a director that has thought of everything and was passionate about doing so. Even the music performances at the start were filmed live without any mixing. What’s more, since the film’s origins started as a true story, it’s not surprising that it doesn’t even come across as fiction. Marder explained that “The project actually began years earlier as a collaboration with my dear friend and frequent writing partner Derek Cianfrance. At that time, it was an exploratory, hybrid documentary involving a real couple in a Metal band. The seed of that project grew into the film it is today.”

It’s clear why Sound of Metal won the Academy Awards for Best Sound and Editing as the two technical categories effortlessly uplifted the acting and script. It was a collaborative process between Nicolas Becker and Mikkel EG Nielsen that worked. When Ruben moves into the home for recovering addicts who are also deaf, that’s where those creative decisions shine. The perspectives of the characters and how they perceive sound, creates a truly special cinematic experience. 

Above all, the film chronicles Ruben coping with his mental health but doesn’t vilify his hearing loss. Characters dealing with their struggles in a positive light on screen is an essential step to normalising emotional healing. It is therapeutic to go through the motions with the character. In turn, Sound of Metal is an incredibly thought-out picture. It allows the audience to reflect and realise that sometimes what you think will solve all your problems, is not necessarily the key happiness. That’s a powerful message.

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