By Bradley Lane
2020 and 2021 have been light on new releases thanks to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic keeping audiences from theaters, but thankfully the upcoming awards season has encouraged streaming services to release the usual deluge of prestige dramas we can typically expect from this time of year. One of the most notable of these films is Sound of Metal which is being pushed as an awards vehicle for its star, Riz Ahmed. However, while Ahmed is fantastic in the lead role, the film has so much more to offer than just a great performance. The direction, sound design and especially its depiction of the Deaf community are all standouts in a movie that culminates in unexpected and heartwarming sincerity for anyone who watches it.
Riz Ahmed plays Ruben, the drummer of the extreme metal duo Backgammon, along with his partner Lou as they set out on a tour from their RV. One night during a show Ruben finds himself not able to hear Lou’s playing and has a panic attack. This leads him to go to a doctor who tells him he has extreme degenerative hearing loss and will likely be deaf for the remainder of his life. This causes Ruben to spiral as he battles a pre-existing struggle with drugs and struggles to see a way to make a living with music out of the realm of possibility. This causes Lou to help him find a Deaf community to assist Ruben adjusting to his sudden loss of hearing.
To get the obvious out of the way, it is impossible to take your eyes off Riz Ahmed in th is movie. Every second Ahmed is on screen he is magnetic in both his struggles and his triumphs. He gives so much of himself to his performance and eventually all that’s left is his character yearning to find a way out of a terrible situation. This ability to relate to Ruben is bolstered by the forced subjectivity of the film as throughout the film we experience a complete lack of sound putting the audience in the position of Ruben by way of clever filmmaking techniques.
What I did not expect was how well the Deaf community was represented in the film. As one of the characters of the film says to Ruben, the Deaf community does not view their lack of hearing as something to be fixed. Wisely, the film demonstrates that living with a hearing loss does not make a Deaf person less able than a hearing person, rather it is the design of a world made by hearing people that puts Deaf people at a disadvantage. I was privileged enough to have had this lesson taught to me from a very early age by my mother who has worked with Deaf and hard of hearing children her entire career, but for those who haven’t had personal experiences with Deaf people this movie does a great job of communicating this essential lesson on empathy and disability.
Despite being focused on a character’s adaptation to losing his hearing, the lessons found in Sound of Metal are universal and well worth your time and are currently available to stream on Amazon Prime Video. – 4/5 stars