Sound of Metal (4 stars)

Sound of Metal

Riz Ahmed is remarkable as a musician suffering from hearing loss in Darius Marder's Oscar-nominated drama

What happens when we can no longer do what we love? That's the question at the heart of this fascinating American drama from Darius Marder – making his narrative feature debut – which finds a heavy metal drummer suffering from rapid, largely irreversible hearing loss. It's nominated for six Oscars, including Best Picture, while its British star Riz Ahmed is amongst the leading actor nominees.

Ahmed stars as Ruben, with another Brit, Olivia Cooke, playing his girlfriend and bandmate Lou, whose grief-fuelled rage translates into ferocious vocals, with drummer Ruben thrashing powerfully in accompaniment. The pair live a simple, seemingly harmonious existence out of an impeccably organised RV, with former addict Ruben now taking good care of their health and general set-up.

When Ruben starts to suffer from hearing problems, he's told to immediately 'eliminate all exposure to loud noises,' and has a devastating decision to make. Ruben's fragility as a former addict leads him to a rural shelter for the deaf, run by community leader Joe (Paul Raci), where he's encouraged to come to terms with and adapt to his hearing loss; the alternative is to somehow find the money for a cochlear implant.

This is emphatically Ruben's story and the film puts you right inside of his head with its ingenious, immersive and now BAFTA-winning sound design. There is some frustration associated with watching a charismatic performer like Cooke slide from view, and her character does feel thin by comparison, though it speaks volumes regarding her talent as a collaborator that her toned-down turn doesn't risk stealing Ahmed's limelight. There's lovely supporting work from a no-nonsense Raci, too, who is also Oscar nominated.

But Ahmed is truly astonishing as someone stripped of what they know and caught between two worlds. There are echoes of his work in Mogul Mowgli here, as he once again plays a man whose health crisis knocks the confidence out of him and jeopardises his future, yet it's a distinctly different and believably disorientated performance. Taking you through the emotional wringer and out the other side, Sound of Metal is a bold, exploratory portrait of identity loss and rebirth.

Available to watch on Amazon Prime Video from Mon 12 Apr and in cinemas from Mon 17 May.

Sound of Metal

  • 4 stars
  • 2020
  • US
  • 2h
  • 15
  • Directed by: Darius Marder
  • Cast: Riz Ahmed, Olivia Cooke, Paul Raci, Lauren Ridloff, Mathieu Amalric
  • UK release: 17 May 2021

A new world opens up to a heavy-metal drummer that has lost his hearing.