[TIFF Review] ‘SOUND OF METAL’ – Riz Ahmed strokes out excellence in immersive drama about loss


James Clay // Film Critic


Rated R, 130 minutes.
Director: Darius Marder
Cast: Riz Ahmed, Olivia Cooke and Paul Raci

TORONTO – Psychodramas, if done right, are intense experiences. To be put into the mind of somebody we don’t know for two hours and get a peek inside their world can leave quite the impression.

Darius Marder’s film, SOUND OF METAL, takes the immersive approach. It closely follows heavy metal drummer Ruben (another knock-out performance from Riz Ahmed), who suddenly loses his hearing.

Marder, who is a frequent collaborator with Derek Cianfrance (PLACE BEYOND THE PINES) adopts his same raw approach. There’s an undeniably authentic quality to his debut feature that’s anything but simple. He adds layers to Ruben’s story, on top of trying to rediscover who he is in the wake of a life-altering disability.

Ruben’s been drumming on tour with his girlfriend of four years, Lou (Olivia Cooke), as a heavy metal duo caravanning across the country in their shared RV. Their life is one of routine: Ruben makes the smoothies and does his pushups before Lou wakes up every morning. As an addict in recovery, he thrives on keeping his relationship and band in order. The control Ruben has on stage and being entirely in sync with his partner in life on a stage is what’s keeping him sober. And then it all comes crashing down when he suddenly loses 80% of his hearing.

Ahmed is an actor with riling intensity. His take on Ruben is to speak only as much as needed. He’s an actor that can play the dishy brooding card to great effect.

Lou and Ruben are on the verge of spiraling when their manager puts them in contact with Joe (Paul Raci), who runs a small community for the deaf. This society of seemingly collected individuals will allow Ruben to thrive and sponge up his new way of life. The only condition is no contact with the outside world, and that means no Lou.

The most intriguing parts of SOUND OF METAL happen when observing Ruben’s progress on a day to day basis without Lou by his side. There’s a path forward for Ruben who seems to adjust even though he’s anxiously awaiting to amass funds for a hearing implant. All his hopes are focused on regaining his hearing and restarting his career, but with what little we know about his past, there’s some much-needed recovery. It’s a wonder Marder doesn’t lean heavily on Ruben’s history with heroin. He’s far more focused on bringing us into a realm of psychological engagement.

Marder’s film about loss and codependency is the most distinctive debut by a filmmaker this year. We’re thrust into Ruben’s world and learn the landscape of American Sign Language. With incredible use of sound design by Nicolas Becker, we hear the constant static of white noise that’s stuck inside Ruben’s head. This may be the closest a film has gotten to actualizing the day to day life of a newly deaf individual.

By pushing the boundaries of Ruben’s story, creatively, there’s a new level of filmmaking he has discovered. SOUND OF METAL ends at an overall pointed conclusion that while we may have plans, sometimes those plans change. It’s all about adapting, and it’s a great film.

Grade: B+

SOUND OF METAL screened at the Toronto International Film Festival. An encore screening will be held on September 14. Visit tiff.net for more information. The film is currently seeking distribution.

About author

James C. Clay

James Cole Clay has been working as a film critic for the better part of a decade covering new releases, blu ray reviews and the occasional drive-in cult classic. His writing is dedicated to discovering social politics through diverse voices, primarily focusing on Women In Film and LGBTQ cinema.