A film with a fairly simple premise but rather complicated characters kicks off my Oscars Challenge.
Darius Marder’s Sound of Metal stars Riz Ahmed as Ruben, a heavy-metal drummer who performs in a duo with girlfriend, Lou (Olivia Cooke). The nomadic pair tour the country in an RV that, rather intentionally or not, serves as a symbol throughout the film. Particularly since it is styled much like an Airstream – just one big piece of metal.
Marder wastes no time providing a sense of angst for the viewer – or, at least, this viewer. The film opens with a sit in on a concert, with Ruben the centerpiece of our view. Marder unsurprisingly uses sound to almost make the viewer uncomfortable, as we hear an almost deafening, high-pitched sound of feedback. It turns out this will lead to us discovering, alongside Ruben, that he is losing his hearing.
From there, we follow Ruben on a wild journey of discovering himself with this new part of his life. At first, Ruben believes the hearing loss is a quick and easy fix. The harsh reality is it’s not and viewers witness Ruben coming to terms with it. That includes living at a home that helps folks who have hearing loss. At first, Ruben detests staying there and losing connection with Lou. He butts heads with the facility director, Joe (Paul Raci) and experiences several outbursts of anger. As time marches on, however, Ruben begins to come into his own. Learning sign language, helping out a local school for deaf children, and becoming a well-liked person at the home.
All the while, however, there is still a sense of getting back to normal for Ruben. And he does exactly that by selling things – such as the aforementioned RV – to pay for heating implant surgery. Ruben gets the surgery and leaves the home, then flies to Paris to reunite with Lou. There are several great moments in the film, but arguable the most remarkable comes at the end. Ruben sits on a bench and can hear the somewhat staticky sounds that only his hearing implants can provide. With camera fairly tight on his face, we see Ruben take the implant connectors off. No audio, just a shot of Ruben experiencing what he sees. Taking in the beauty of the moment.
Sound of Metal is a truly gorgeous film. Cinematography and the intricate use of audio sets the film apart from others I’ve seen in the past several years. What is most impressive about the film is the way it connects the viewer with its main character. We get to experience every high and low Ruben experiences. From his highs performing with Lou and traveling the world, to discovering his hearing loss for the first time. It’s only right that the audio play a big role in this and exquisitely done.
While Nomadland is the likely favorite for Best Picture, don’t count out Sound of Metal. This heartfelt film has brilliant performances, an excellent storyline, and a truly outstanding use of audio. This is a must-see!