Review by Sean Boelman
The directorial debut of Darius Marder, who has collaborated with filmmaker Derek Cianfrance in the past, Sound of Metal is inarguably one of the most daring and unconventional films of the year. Powered by a subtly emotional script, wonderful sound design, and a phenomenal performance by Riz Ahmed, audiences won’t soon forget this masterpiece.
The movie follows a heavy metal drummer who begins to struggle after suddenly and completely losing his hearing. At first, it seems as if this is going to be a conventional and sentimental recovery and rehabilitation drama, but it soon becomes obvious that there are many more layers to this story.
There is a patience to the way in which Marder approaches his film. What the character is going through is a cycle, and that is how Marder depicts it. It’s not a movie that constantly wallows in misery, but it’s also not overly sappy and uplifting. In real life, people go through both good and bad moments, and this film nails the balance between the two.
If there is one thing that viewers need to take away from this movie, it is that people react to things in different ways, and it is important to offer compassion to them no matter the decision they make, good or bad. The film’s depiction of addiction is particularly unique, as it creates a thought-provoking comparison between the protagonist’s literal addiction and his inability to accept change.
Obviously, the protagonist will immediately earn the sympathy of the audience because of his situation, but the movie does a great job of challenging the audience’s presuppositions about this type of character. Yet despite all the effort that goes into the lead, the script has plenty of empathy and humanity to spare, even for the most minimal of supporting characters.
Ahmed’s performance in the leading role is clearly one of the best of the year. He’s able to find the perfect balance between sadness, fear, and hope that makes the character and his story so compelling. The supporting cast also features some great turns, especially from Paul Raci, Olivia Cooke, and Mathieu Amalric.
What really puts this film above and beyond, though, is the way in which it approaches its technical element. There is so much creativity in the sound design. The way in which the team mixes the different pieces allows the audience to understand the disorientation the character is feeling. The inclusion of open captions is another small but brilliant decision.
Sound of Metal is one of the most unexpectedly amazing movies of the year. While it’s sad that most audiences won’t get to see this one on the big screen, it’s a unique and ambitious film in both a narrative and a technical sense.
Sound of Metal screened at the 2020 AFI FEST which runs virtually October 15-22.