The Beach House (2020) | SHUDDER
When I first heard about Sound of Metal, over a year ago after it played at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival, I was immediately sold. Despite taking a long time to reach audiences, it was well worth the wait. Between a fascinating premise and a riveting performance from British actor, rapper (YES), and activist Riz Ahmed, it’s easily one of the best films of the year.
Director Darius Marder is a frequent collaborator of the talented Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine, The Place Beyond The Pines), so it’s no wonder that Sound of Metal looks and feels so masterful despite being a feature film debut. Now, it’s no secret that the best filmmakers are the ones who can tell an impactful story without words. Considering that so much of the film hinders on action and reaction instead of words, Marder’s ability to capture non-verbal thoughts and emotions especially shines. There are numerous moments where Ahmed’s Ruben is forced to sit and sink with the reality that his life will never be the same. As private and as brutal as some of those moments may be, Marder’s decision to remain by his side is far from voyeuristic. Instead, he evokes and establishes a deep empathy for Ruben’s pain.
The film follows a heavy metal drummer whose life is turned upside down after he begins to lose his hearing, and it’s just as heartbreaking as it sounds. Our protagonist Ruben loves music, and over the course of the film you actually learn that it’s one of the things that’s kept him alive after a previous struggle with addiction. What makes the story even more tragic is the fact that he performs in a band with his girlfriend, Lou. So the loss of his hearing simultaneously affects his only other love too. Overnight his world is seemingly rattled, and he must learn to rebuild it in order to survive. Much like survival in the real world, you never know what’s going to happen next, and that’s honestly one of the best things about it. There are quite a few unexpected turns, especially in the third act, but because all of them are grounded in reality they only enhance the story.
There’s Beauty In Simplicity. Everything Else Is Background Noise.
SOUND OF METAL (2020)
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
I think I’m one of the few people who have been a fan of Riz Ahmed since the very beginning. Before he won an Emmy for The Night Of, before Rogue One, and before Nightcrawler, he started out as a rapper, and it’s so incredible to see how far he’s come. While he’s joined by the likes of Olivia Cooke and (real life veteran and ASL rockstar) Paul Raci, who play his girlfriend and the head of the deaf group home he stays at respectively, Ahmed’s acting is the main showcase. In fact, I don’t think Marder’s direction would be nearly as effective if it weren’t for Ahmed’s performance. As vocal as he is about losing his hearing, it’s in the moments where he sits in silence that he says the most. Without the very visual inner conflict Ahmed demonstrates through Ruben, there would be no story. If he doesn’t at least get an Oscar nom for what is certainly a new career-best performance, then there might not be a God.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
The way in which the film utilizes sound, and especially the lack thereof, is brilliant. While sound is important to Ruben, it’s actually the steady loss of it that stands out the most. As I mentioned earlier, Marder effectively establishes a deep understanding of what Ruben is going through, however, he’s only able to do so by manipulating the sound to make the audience hear everything exactly as Ruben does. This means that whenever he can’t understand somebody, we can’t either. And whenever he’s trapped in his own head with the scary and sullen silence, so are we. As outsiders looking in, Marder gives us Ruben’s full experience, and makes us understand how much of a privilege our senses really are.
Because the film focuses so much on sound, there are little to no visual or special effects. The production design is excellent though. Between the mobile home that Ruben and Lou live in at the start of the film to the group facility that Ruben rehabilitates at, each location is perfect at both establishing the tone for the film and the priorities for those that call it home. For instance, in addition to always being cramped and filled with sound equipment for both his and Lou’s band, the trailer represents just how material Ruben’s life is. Conversely the group facility he later stays at is much more spacious and mostly empty, and that gives him the literal opportunity to grow.
In one of the film’s most memorable moments, Raci’s character tells Ruben that even though he no longer abuses substances, the desperation he has to return to a normal life still makes him an addict. That exchange sheds light on the film’s most deafening truth. Sometimes you have to lose everything in order to gain some perspective. There’s beauty in simplicity. Everything else is background noise.
SOUND OF METAL - in theaters (11.20.20) and on Prime Video (12.04.20)