Review: ‘Sound of Metal’ follows deaf drummer with masterful use of silence

WTOP's Jason Fraley reviews 'Sound of Metal'

It was one of the standout streaming films at last month’s Middleburg Film Festival.

This Friday, “Sound of Metal” opens in select theaters before hitting Amazon on Dec. 4.

The story follows heavy metal drummer Ruben and his lead singer girlfriend Lou as they drive from town to town in their mobile home to perform. However, when Ruben begins losing his hearing, they must decide their future as a band and as a couple.

Such a setup allows for an expressive performance by Riz Ahmed of “Nightcrawler” (2014) and HBO’s “The Night Of” (2016). This time, he blends the hungry drummer of Miles Teller in “Whiplash” (2014) and the bruised loner of Mickey Rourke in “The Wrestler” (2008), searching for meaning amid the detached depression of “Why me?”

While Ahmed is forced to tell much of the story through his eyes, Olivia Cooke has an equally challenging role as his girlfriend, screaming metal lyrics to his furious drum beats before being forced to communicate with him through handwritten notes. After “Bates Motel” and “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” her talents should be no surprise.

Ahmed and Cooke deserve most of credit, but Paul Raci (“Goliath”) deserves Oscar consideration for Best Supporting Actor as Joe, the wise operator of a remote home for deaf folks. His pathos-filled performance helps Ruben learn sign language through tough love and total immersion, swiping his phone to instill a quest for inner nirvana.

Hats off to writers Darius Marder, Derek Cianfrance and Abraham Marder for crafting an insightful look at the deaf community, particularly the taboo nature of ear implants. Unlike the Netflix reality dating show “Deaf U” filmed at Gallaudet University, this is a serious look at a unique slice of the population handled with care, dignity and respect.

It’s a switch of roles as Marder co-wrote “The Place Beyond the Pines” for Cianfrance, but now Cianfrance co-writes for Marde to direct. As a filmmaker, Marder employs masterful sound design, lacing the soundtrack with distorted sounds and ringing ears to fully immerse us in the deaf drummer’s shoes. Few films make better use of silence.

It all builds to a touching final act that provides just enough closure without sacrificing artistic ambiguity. The final shot is cinematic perfection, reminding viewers to block out the noise and enjoy the silence, knowing that peace is the ability to sit with one’s self.

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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