In Sound of Metal, Riz Ahmed gives the best performance of his career. “Rooted in reality” is what describes the film best.
A heavy-metal drummer’s life is twisted and turned upside down when he starts to lose his hearing and he has to confront a future filled with silence.
Background of Sound of Metal
In the 2020 drama Mogul Mowgli, the co-writer and star Riz Ahmed played a British-Pakistani rapper struck down by a devastating illness on the occasion of his international breakthrough. In Toronto in 2019, Sound of Metal premiered. Here, Riz Ahmed, an American drummer, has his life turned upside down by the commencement of deafness. Stylistically, both of these films could not be more different; Sound of Metal is acutely practical with a docudrama edge. On the other hand, Mogul Mowgli has been described as – a “Sufi horror” musical melodrama mixture. Identity is what troubles both the films. This is a thorny issue with which Ahmed fought in the eye-opening 2020 short film –The Long Goodbye. This is indeed accounted as his finest work, including this remarkable Oscar nominee.
Co-written and Directed by Darius Marder, Sound of Metal originates from an unfinished project by Derek Cianfrance. The bones of that unfinished project were taken up by Marder.
Ahmed plays the character of Ruben Stone, drumming with singer-guitarist Lou (played by Olivia Cooke) in the noise-merchant two-piece “Backgammon”. They are partners, touring the US in a renewed RV that doubles as a recording studio. But when Ruben’s hearing abruptly fails, he immediately finds himself outside the bubble. It gets tough for him to adjust because in this bubble he has existed for a long time.
After having ignored the medical advice to avoid loud sounds, Ruben, a recovering addict is in turn guided by his sponsor, Hector, to a retreat. Paul Raci brilliantly plays the role of Joe, who runs the retreat. This veteran stage and screen actor is himself a child of deaf parents. Here, Rubin finds the possibility of a new life.
With astonishing verisimilitude, Marder captures a world in which each detail stands true, above all. From the ambiance of Ruben’s performances to fiery group debates conducted in American sign language (ASL), Sound of Metal, therefore finds universal appeal in the specifications of detail, rooted in Riz Ahmed’s thrillingly committed performance.
While describing the physicality of signing and using the whole body as an expressive tool, Riz said that the deaf community taught him what it means to listen. There is something inspiring about watching a performer of Ahmed’s talent step up to the next level. It is as if his craft has been augmented by learning this new language. While Ruben hides behind his words, Ahmed is more emotionally expressive than when communicating through sign language.
There is a skillful allusion in the title of Sound of Metal to the distorted tones that inundated Ruben when he turns against Joe’s advice to cochlear implants. Ruben experiences physical vibrations rather than aural vibrations. He can feel the drums, even if he cannot hear them. Just as addiction is a main theme, therefore Ruben’s desperate wish for surgery becomes a metaphor for an even wider crisis of faith, a struggle for identity embodied in the multilayered sound design.