Review: Sound of Metal (2020)

Director: Darius Marder
Screenwriter: Abraham Marder, Darius Marder
Starring: Riz Ahmed, Olivia Cooke, Paul Raci, Lauren Ridloff, Mathieu Amalric
Genres: Drama, Music
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language throughout and brief nude images
Release Dates: 11/20/20 (Theatres); 12/4/20 (Streaming)
Runtime: 2 hours
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 96%
Where to Watch: Amazon
Oscar Nomination(s): Likely–Actor (Ahmed),
Supporting Actor (Raci), Sound; Possible–Picture, Original Screenplay; Long-Shot–Director, Supporting Actress (Cooke)

The Sound of Metal actually had a long road to its release; it premiered at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) in 2019, and was released in limited theatres about a year later, and then on Amazon just weeks later. I’m glad it’s now available on Amazon, because more people are able to see it. It is, however, one of the movies that I wish I could’ve seen in the theater — especially with the explosive performance its center and the impeccable sound editing/mixing. There are plenty of other recently-released films that would’ve been better to see in the theater, but, alas, that’s not the best thing to do in these pandemic times. 

Not only does writer/director Darius Marder’s film feature one of the best performances of the year — topped only by Carey Mulligan’s brilliant work in Promising Young Woman — but it is also one of the best films, period, of 2020. When Sound of Metal was originally advertised, and the trailer was released, it was touted mainly for Ahmed’s terrific, committed performance in the main role. But, to be fair, the rest of the film is quite excellent, too. What helps to make it so engrossing and fascinating — other than Ahmed — is the fact that it doesn’t seem rehearsed. I think the inclusion of truly deaf individuals, as well as others in the deaf community who understand what it’s like being deaf, helped in this regard. 

Ahmed is, of course, magnificent and authentic as can possibly be in the main role. And, instead of constantly shouting and giving a big, loud performance, he reacts very naturally and believably. There’s one particularly heartbreaking between him and Paul Raci — also terrific — that is perhaps the most important scene in the film, and some of the best acting I’ve seen all year. Raci isn’t deaf, but he grew up with deaf parents and is, like his character, a Vietnam veteran. I certainly hopes he receive an Oscar nomination alongside Ahmed. Both actors give two of the best performances of the year, and it’d be a shame not to honor them. I also have to shout out Olivia Cooke, who is only present in the first and third acts, and who does a fairly solid job but does not really have an Oscar bait-y scene. 

And, let’s not forget the incredible sound design here. It apparently took a long time to create the unique sounds in the film, and it definitely shows. We often hear what Ahmed’s character, Ruben, is hearing — which is sometimes complete silence, muffled noises, or a combination of the two. It’s the best use of sound since The Invisible Man (and probably even better than that). 

All in all, Marder presents the life of a deaf recovering addict in a very unique and impressive manner, and I can find no real faults with it. At first, I felt some parts of the third act to be unnecessary, but it makes sense to me now (no spoilers!).