AFI Fest 2020: ‘Sound of Metal’ Film Review

"It’s important around here that being deaf is not a handicap and not something to fix."

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AFI Fest Sound Metal Review
Amazon Studios

A heavy-metal drummer’s life is thrown into freefall when he begins to lose his hearing.

Sound of Metal starts with a bang (literally) as Ruben (Riz Ahmed) plays the drums during a concert. It’s that early on where we see the importance of the loud sequences that start the movie. After the show, we see Ruben riding with his girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke) to the next town for the next gig.

While there and prepping the merch stand, we get our first glimpse of Ruben’s hearing difficulties. As he goes back on the road, his difficulty becomes more severe and he finally decides to see a doctor. That’s when they run a test on him — and we see that he’s not able to understand what the doctor is saying.

Then, the moment happens. While Ruben is onstage playing, he loses it and isn’t able to hear anything. Terrified, he runs off the stage with Lou chasing behind him. That’s when she finds out and emotions overcome her. She’s unsure what to do next but Ruben knows he wants the procedure to regain his hearing.

Under the pressure of the unknown, we see the effects this is really having on Ruben. He goes to a center for the hard of hearing with Lou but he refuses to stay and become part of the community. He refuses to learn how to adapt to his new circumstances.

Before I go any further, it’s worth noting that this story hits close to home for me. I grew up with a deaf sister and I never understand what that entailed when I was growing up. But as I got older, and understood that it was less about me having to adapt to her and more about trying to understand how she adapted to it. You can never put yourself in their shoes, and as much as we want to know how they handle everyday life, it isn’t easy. 

Now back to the film… Director/screenplay writer Darius Marder did an impeccable job of not giving the viewer the opportunity to understand everything early on. He forces us to actually understand him by putting us in his shoes. He wanted us to feel as lost and confused as Ruben was. He wanted us to learn at the same pace as Ruben. He did this so well — even down to the subtitles he added as Ruben started to comprehend more.

For this movie to work, Ruben had to be accessible and, within that layer, Ahmed is in charge of making us feel what he is feeling which he manages to do very well. He made me feel empathy, pain and sorrow with his body language, movements and facial expressions. I felt connected to his journey.

Technically speaking, the sound mixing was a pivotal player in the movie as the transition from hearing to the lack thereof needed to come off authentic. Sound of Metal has some of the best sound mixings we will get from any movie this year. 

Darius Marder’s Sound of Metal challenges us to walk in the shoes of the hard of hearing. 

See more of my AFI Fest coverage here.