Sound of Metal15¦ Blu-ray
For a film with such an indie/European sensibility, it’s quite impressive that the sound of metal that could actually be heard is that of multiple Oscars clanking together, as it has received six nominations, including Best Picture and Best Actor for its star Riz Ahmed.
But as worthy at the film might be, following the life of a drummer who loses his hearing, it may not quite have what it takes to reach the gold standard.
It’s safe to say that the band Blackgammon are hardly likely to set the music world on fire any time soon, but it’s kind of a living for the duo and couple behind it, Ruben (Ahmed) and Lou (Olivia Cooke), as they tour around in their beat up Airstream RV.
During this tour however, Ruben discovers that he’s had a massive hearing loss, which is unfortunate for a drummer, to say the least. After reluctantly seeing a specialist, who tests his audible range, he informs Ruben that he currently has around 25% hearing, and if he continues with banging the drums, he can lose it all.
With Ruben also having a history of drug abuse, Lou is concerned that despite being four years clean, this could send Ruben into freefall. So Ruben finds himself at a rural clinic for the deaf, who also happen to be recovering addicts, in an attempt to not only learn how to communicate as a deaf person, but also how to live.
There’s a curious quietness about this film, which you wouldn’t quite expect. Darius Marder, making his directorial debut, plays with the sound element well – which is also up for an Oscar – by replicating the noise that Ruben hears for audiences to appreciate, which is extremely effective.
What’s less so is the emotional weight of the film, which is somewhat lacking. Despite his world collapsing around him, Ruben only once loses his shit. Other than that outburst, his emotional response to everything is pretty much on an even keel. Considering how passionate and emotional musicians are, Ruben displays none of it. More inner angst certainly wouldn’t have gone amiss.
And although there’s something endearing about those he encounters at the deaf retreat, its down to earthness could have benefitted hugely from some emotional support.
It’s fantastic that Ahmed, one of the major talents of the current UK acting scene, who is often also underrated and overlooked in favour of your more la-di-la Cumberbatch’s and such, has been recognised by the Academy, but this just doesn’t feel like the right role to win it for. In fact it's a safe bet that he won’t, particularly in a crowded category with the likes of Anthony Hopkins and Chadwick Boseman in, with the latter possibly edging it with the Academy’s posthumous nod.
Still, he’s learnt some valuable acting skills to add to his CV, with sign reading and drumming, so even if he doesn’t pick up a gold statue, he’ll be able to read any shady goings-on between competitors at the next Def (sic) Drumming Jam competition.
The film also loses its way a little towards the end, where it oddly ends up in France, as it awkwardly attempts to tie up loose ends, which could have been left alone. You get the sense that it was shot there due to the availability of Mathieu Amalric, who appears in the film but possibly couldn’t travel, so shooting in France was purely to accommodate him. As great an actor as he his however, his part in this film does absolutely nothing to enrich it.
Considering how emotive the issue of losing hearing is, the film is emotionally stunted, as if turning up the drama would have a detrimental effect on its cool indie sensibilities. What it would have done however, is given it an emotional resonance that audiences would have related to.
It’s not a bad performance by Ahmed, but it could have been so much better, as could have the film itself. It’s the difference between making a noise and having something to say, and the film sadly struggles with the latter.