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"SOUND OF METAL"
(2020) (Riz Ahmed, Paul Raci) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: A drummer must contend with hearing loss and how that affects his life both professionally and personally.
PLOT:

Ruben Stone (RIZ AHMED) is a drummer in the heavy metal duo Blackgammon where he plays behind Lou (OLIVIA COOKE), the lead singer and guitarist who also happens to be his girlfriend. They live out of an old and small RV and travel around the country earning a living playing small but extremely loud gigs. Probably due to that, Ruben is suddenly struck with severe hearing loss and learns that cochlear implants are likely the only solution to his issue. All of which means he'll have to keep playing such loud gigs in hopes of making enough money to pay for them, thus worsening his condition.

Concerned about his past addiction, Lou arranges for Ruben to check in at a small community of recovering addicts who are also deaf, run by Vietnam vet and recovering alcoholic Joe (PAUL RACI). Not wanting to accept this new development and unable to communicate since he doesn't know American Sign Language, Ruben initially wants no part of this arrangement, has a hard time fitting in, and misses Lou who isn't allowed to stay as part of the initiation for newcomers. But as the days and weeks pass, and he interacts with others there such as teacher Diane (LAUREN RIDLOFF), Ruben begins to acclimate to the place and his condition, although the temptation of getting those implants is never far from his mind.

OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10

My first full-time job after college was doing audio work for the U.S. Senate Recording Studio in the U.S. Capitol. While there were plenty of memorable moments working there -- including getting to travel to the White House and even be in the Cabinet Room with the President and his entire Cabinet -- one smaller, technical matter has always stuck with me.

And that was a feature on our professional-grade audio board where a test tone could be played that began with a frequency you could feel but not hear, up through the mid-ranges and then the highs that eventually went above and beyond the upper limits of human hearing.

I distinctly recall, despite blaring heavy metal music into my ears via headphones as a teen and then attending rock concerts that left ringing in my ears for days, that I could hear many of those high tones while my coworkers in their fifties could not.

Age, of course, was their primary nemesis, but past exposure to loud sounds probably took its toll as well. Who knows, maybe they were in a band in their youth and blasted their hearing into future oblivion. All of that came to mind while watching "Sound of Metal," an engaging look at what happens to musicians who end up suffering from hearing loss.

While that's not entirely a novel premise for the world of movies -- for instance, the girlfriend character in "Creed" is a musician dealing with the same and the latest version of "A Star is Born" features a main character whose last act stems partially from a related hearing issue -- it could be the first where it's the main focus on the story.

In this offering from writer/director Darius Marder and co-writer Abraham Marder, Riz Ahmed plays Ruben Stone, the heavily tattooed, often shirtless drummer for the heavy metal meets punk duo Blackgammon. Performing behind his live-in girlfriend, Lou (Olivia Cooke), who's up front wailing away with screeching vocals and fierce shredding on the guitar, Ruben is aurally assaulted multiple nights of the week as they travel around the country in their tiny, what-they-call home RV.

And then one day his hearing is mostly gone. While that understandably freaks him out on the expected human experience level, the fact that he makes a living via music only adds insult to injury. As does the cost of cochlear implants.

Realizing such despair could have him fall off the heroin wagon, Lou arranges for Ruben to get used to his new condition at a facility run by Joe (Paul Raci), a recovering alcoholic who takes in other recovering addicts who just so happen to be deaf or extremely hard of hearing. Ruben initially wants no part of this -- not understanding sign language and being subjected to Joe's daily rules -- but he eventually begins to assimilate into this new world slowly but surely.

Ahmed is terrific in the part, making us feel for his plight as his world unravels. Raci is also stellar as the tough-love operator of the small facility, and thus it's no surprise both have earned plenty of award accolades, including recent Oscar nominations for both. Other Oscar nominations include those for Best Picture, Screenplay, Editing, and Sound, all of which are well-deserved.

That's particularly true for the latter in that the film occasionally puts us inside Ruben's head, hearing the damaged way that he does, making this offering even more immersive, both technically and in terms of connecting to his character and his plight.

Kudos to all involved for getting that right, at least to this non-hearing specialist spectator who thankfully can still hear, although I doubt my range is what it was more than three decades ago. Pretty terrific all around, "Sound of Metal" rates as a 7 out of 10.




Reviewed March 21, 2021 / Posted March 26, 2021


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