AFI FEST 2020 REVIEW! Riz Ahmed’s tragic turn in Dan Gilroy’s 2014 masterpiece Nightcrawler turned me into a fan. However, since then, Ahmed has been relegated to supporting parts in so-so Hollywood blockbusters (Jason Bourne, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Venom). Darius Marder’s piercing drama, Sound of Metal, provides Ahmed with the opportunity to truly flex his acting chops. Like a ray of celestial light in a dreary, apocalyptic year, Ahmed delivers one of its most uninhibited, committed, and touching performances – in one of its most perceptive, visually, and aurally astonishing films.
Ahmed plays recovering heroin addict and struggling drummer, Ruben, who performs the occasional gig with his bandmate/singer/girlfriend, Lou (Olivia Cooke). They lead a lifestyle that could be described as on the precipice between “blissful” and “tortured,” “ignorant,” and “painfully aware.” They’re obviously in love, somewhat content in their Winnebago, the scars on her wrists suggesting a dark past, his needle-inflicted scars long since healed – four years, to be precise, when he met Lou.
“…while shopping at a thrift store, Ruben’s world suddenly goes mute.”
One day, while shopping at a thrift store, Ruben’s world suddenly goes mute. The news he receives from his doctor is dismal: “The hearing that you have lost is not coming back.” That being said, a very expensive implant could potentially restore Ruben’s hearing. The issue? “It’s like forty grand, eighty grand, whatever,” the panicking musician stammers, already determined on getting it done. Disregarding the good doc’s – not to mention Lou’s – advice to stay away from loud noises, he plays more shows until he can’t hear even the echoes of his beat.
Lou convinces Ruben to stay at a rehab/retreat, a community of deaf people with tumultuous pasts, led by the guru-like Joe (Paul Raci). Ruben attends group meetings, feels alienated at “chatty” group dinners, is forced to write and volunteer with the kids in the groups. Eventually, he learns ASL and starts to feel more comfortable in all these groups – but no less determined. His counterparts view being deaf not as a handicap, not as an impairment that needs fixing, but a lifestyle. Ruben rebels against his fate. After selling off all of his possessions, he goes through the operation – but neither its outcome nor the consequences are what he predicted. A reunion with Lou in France – as well as an encounter with her father Richard (Mathieu Amalric) – leads to a sublime finale that will silently shatter hearts.
"…Ahmed is magnificent..."