I am not joking here when I say this is one of the best movies to be released in the past ten years. Since watching it a couple of weeks ago I still find myself thinking about it nearly every day. The film follows an aspiring metal drummer in America who suddenly starts to lose his hearing. Reuben (played by Riz Ahmed) is faced with this crushing problem just as it seems that the band that he’s in is taking off. The band consists only of Reuben and his girlfriend, Lou (played by Olivia Cooke), meaning that there is a huge weight on each of their shoulders and that neither of the two can just be replaced.
The relationship at the forefront of the film encapsulates the rock spirit of these main characters, who hold an ‘us against the world’ view. It is clear that Lou is deeply concerned for her boyfriend when she finds out about his hearing issues but Reuben is too stubborn to seek help, which only worsens his condition. When things reach a boiling point the pair are left with no other option than to stop touring and do whatever they can to help Reuben. This in itself is a massive blow, as the band and a relentless focus on music have been a guiding force in the couples lives after battling with some demons in the past. Life for both Reuben and Lou is thrown upside down in a way that makes you look around and think; “what if this happened to me? what if I suddenly became deaf? or blind?”.
Part of the genius of Sound of Metal is the way that the movie messes with your senses. You are put in Reuben’s shoes with sudden cuts in sound and muffled noises that create a confusing and unsettling world. You really feel his pain through this method and you can properly identify with the soul crushing hearing loss. These scenes are compared and intertwined with scenes of the band revelling in a sweaty club playing music as loud as they can. For their efforts, the production team won an Oscar for Best Sound and Best Film Editing. After watching this movie it would be hard to argue against these choices, as at times it is just as beautiful and moving as it is devastating.
From this point in the film where the couple seek help, the entire story takes on a different feel that is far more sensitive and touching. Reuben goes to a community led by a Vietnam War veteran called Joe (played by Paul Raci). Here he begins a long and difficult process of coming to terms with his deafness, largely by ceasing to view it as a handicap in the first place. Reuben, understandably, struggles with this and has to face a crossroads between his old lifestyle and his new reality. I won’t go on to say much more as it is this journey that is what really makes this movie special.
What I will say is that this is one of the best designed and produced films that I have seen recently, from the sound quality right down to the characters and scripting there is not one fault that I could find. I went into watching Sound of Metal with a notion that it would be similar to 2014’s Whiplash in that it centres around one artist’s desire to ‘make it’. I am glad to say that I was very wrong as what lays here is a much deeper film that not only looks at the pressure on artists, but recovery, grief, relationships and what it means to be deaf. If the six academy award nominations aren’t enough to convince you to watch this movie then I hope that this is, because this is a seriously fantastic watch that anyone can enjoy.
Words by Ewan Blacklaw
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