In the picture

Despite a few nitpicky issues with its storytelling, Sound of Metal hits you hard with its drama

Sound of Metal☆☆☆1/2

Staring: Riz Ahmed, Olivia Cooke, Paul Raci, Lauren Ridloff, and Mathieu Amalric

Direction: Darius Marder

Tagline: Music was his world. Then silence revealed a new one.

Sound of Metal may not have been a frontrunner in any of its major categories – what with Nomadland being near-unbeatable throughout the award season – but the film had pretty much been a shoo-in for the Best Sound honour at this year’s Academy Awards. Start watching the movie and you almost instantly understand why it was likely to – and actually did – win this technical category.

As Ruben (portrayed by Riz Ahmed) – the drummer of an avant-garde metal band and a recovering addict – begins to rapidly lose his hearing, the film captures the muffled sound that he experiences, then alternates between regular sound and silence, fuzzy echoes and static, as he navigates his new reality.

The protagonist’s anguish is palpable as his world is transformed from one filled with the raucous music of his group Blackgammon – the other member of which is his girlfriend, Lou (Olivia Cooke) – to indecipherable noises and exasperating silence.

Ruben reluctantly joins a shelter for deaf recovering addicts that is run by a man named Joe (Paul Raci) who lost his hearing in Vietnam. As he befriends the other residents and learns sign language, Ruben has to decide whether he should embrace his hearing loss and immerse himself in this new community or opt for expensive cochlear implant surgery.

While the world that Darius Marder and his team create remains sonically captivating, it’s at this junction that the developments seem a tad unconvincing.

If you have any knowledge of or experience with hearing loss, then you will certainly feel the devastation in Ruben’s journey, but you may also find the omission of various elements of treatment and assistance – medication, testing, devices, counselling, adjustment period – (as well as their many complexities) a little frustrating or even misleading.

But Marder and co. are clearly focused on emotional pull instead of medical realism, and they definitely succeed in creating a powerful impact. You can feel Ruben’s anxiety and experience his frustration, thanks both to the film’s expert sound profile and the subtle but brilliantly effective performance by Riz Ahmed who brings nuance and vulnerability to his character.

Sound of Metal never does anything particularly unexpected or intricate with its storyline, but the technical aspects of its filmmaking – from the editing to the sound profile to the acting – are always impressive. Plus its tale of loss and anxiety, acceptance and adaptability is emotionally resonant and likely to inspire you while leaving you with an appreciation for the things you might be taking for granted.

Rating system: *Not on your life * ½ If you really must waste your time ** Hardly worth the bother ** ½ Okay for a slow afternoon only
*** Good enough for a look see *** ½ Recommended viewing **** Don’t miss it **** ½ Almost perfect ***** Perfection

In the picture