One half of heavy metal duo Blackgammon, recovering addict Reuben has a problem. More than just being the group’s drummer, he is the sober linchpin to girlfriend Lou’s grip on life. However, just when he’s starting to get the measure of her suicidal tendencies, his own world suddenly falls apart as he becomes deaf. Unable to cope or even communicate with the world, the two of them manage to find a retreat for deaf drug addicts. However, as a condition of Reuben’s staying, Lou must leave. With Lou gone, Reuben now feels lost. Is his world slipping away or is another one waiting to find him? Only Reuben can decide…
... it is Ahmed's insistent belief that he can return the world to the way that it was that defines Sound of Metal.
Looking pumped up and prepared for his role as a heavy metal drummer, Rhiz Ahmed brings his characteristic intensity to the role of Reuben. Opposite him, Olivia Cooke is suitably fragile as her girlfriend Lou. Yet despite the healthy yet unpalatable smoothies he makes her each morning, this is never going to be enough in Darius Marder’s debut Sound of Metal. With its turquoise green and cadmium yellow colour palette, a gnawing is never far away from Ahmed’s well-meaning drummer.
As shock gives way to realisation and returns back to unacceptance, Reuben personality unravels quickly. Once his hearing starts to deteriorate, the layers of Reuben’s and Lou’s past are stripped away, revealing the true nature of their co-dependence. Later forced apart by the strict entry rules of Paul Raci’s Joe, it is Lou who surprises Rebuen by choosing to leave him. Disorientated and resistant to the environment he finds himself in, it is the key scenes between Reuben and Joe that have the most heft in this movie. Sensing inside Reuben an itch that just won’t quit, it is Paul Raci’s performance that becomes the heart of this movie. Articulate, inviting and disappointed when he’s lied too, this is later matched by the surprise and subdued arrival of Matthieu Amalric as Lou’s disconnected father who blamed Reuben for stealing away Lou in the first place.
Yet the key ingredient throughout is Riz Ahmed‘s performance. Whereas the opening act feels a little fractured and the second one steadies itself as Reuben attempts recovery, it is Ahmed’s insistent belief that he can return the world to the way that it was that defines Sound of Metal. Lost inside a world of jangling, dissonant sounds where was there a full range of tone, director Darius Marder’s debut is commendable about how it uses audio effects to bring the audience inside the closeted world of Reuben’s impaired hearing.
With a bordering-on-documentary camera technique, Sound of Metal is a stripped-down drama that effectively uses large passages of silence to loudly get its point across. And this is where it contrasts heavily to Riz Ahmed’s other musician-faced-with-a-debilitating-future drama, Mogul Mowgli. Whereas Mogul Mowgli is intentionally surreal in its depiction of a rapper facing both an identity crisis and physical paralysis, I feel that Sound of Metal gently shades the two. By taking you into a different world made up of more challenging perspectives, I think it’s the one that might live with you the longest.
That said, both films feature central characters on very similar journeys who ultimately realise that the past is only a path that can be travelled once. For you dear reader/listener, it needn’t be a make or break decision.
-Why not take both and see how you feel?0