Metal Storm logo
Sound Of Metal review



Reviewer:
8.0


This is a movie. Yes, we do have film reviews on Metal Storm.

I love movies. For some reason, I have not yet made a concentrated effort to review other forms of media on Metal Storm in spite of the site's ability to support other formats (my 16-year-late review of the book Fargo Rock City notwithstanding), but the kinographic arts are another passion of mine, and the appearance of a widely lauded film entitled Sound Of Metal seemed like an opportunity to break that content fast. Somewhat less importantly, the 93rd Academy Awards are nearly upon us and I guess that makes this an appropriate time to discuss one of the prominent nominees. This review includes only a broad discussion of the film's most evident narrative elements, so tread comfortably.

Cowritten and directed by Darius Marder, whose only previous directing credit was the 2008 documentary Loot, Sound Of Metal chronicles a metal drummer named Ruben (Riz Ahmed) who begins to lose his hearing while on tour. That brief summary factoid constitutes possibly the most significant reason why this film initially seems appropriate to review on Metal Storm - and likely the reason why Radu kept urging me to do so (do any of my reviews not start with this line these days?). There's also the fact that the film is called "Sound Of Metal." As the editor-in-chief of an international heavy metal webzine, I'm reasonably confident in saying that it is impossible to describe what the "sound" of metal is other than "the friends we made along the way," so my first question - borne out of not just personal curiosity but a professional consideration for how relevant this might truly be to the readership of Metal Storm - was of what form the metal in this movie takes. I spied a Motörhead t-shirt (in Arabic), as well as apparel featuring the likes of G.I.S.M., Youth Of Today, Rudimentary Peni, and Einstürzende Neubauten - not so much metal, any of them, aside from ol' Snaggletooth, but obviously we're talking about Ruben's band in particular: Blackgammon, the duo of Ruben on drums and Lou on guitar and vocals.

The opening scene features one of Blackgammon's performances, an artistically lit gig at some claustrophobia-inducing club or another, and they put on quite a respectable performance as a noisy sludge band, anchored by some drone-doom resonance and prone to explosive digressions. There's a smidge of violent hardcore with some Lingua Ignota vibes emanating from Lou's caterwauling, so I deem Blackgammon perfectly listenable. We're treated to a few snippets of Ruben's playing throughout the film, and the months-long regimen of drum lessons that Riz Ahmed underwent in preparation paid off: he appears comfortable behind the kit, wholly believable as an underground musician on the road, and with Ruben's musical career so central to his character - not only as his means of subsistence, but, it is hinted, a means of keeping him on the straight and narrow - it was crucial for his musical prowess to appear genuine. So it does.

That initial performance comes to an abrupt halt as the action shifts to the next morning, when Ruben and Lou groggily shake off the residual grime. This second opening to the film focuses on quotidian ambiance, turning our attention to the humble soundtrack of daily life. It's a reminder of how heavily sound factors into every minor calculation we process subconsciously; Ruben's average day is a crescendo from the whispers that usher in the morning to the soft music and conversations that occupy him and Lou on the road to the cathartic explosions of noise that sound off every evening. This cycle represents everything that he stands to lose (and eventually does): not simply aural stimuli, but the ability to understand his place in the world. When his impending deafness first reveals itself, it is framed primarily as an interruption to these routine scenes, a parallel to that average day in which his hearing blurs and fades out. As he attempts to navigate his ordinary course with all sounds muffled and indistinct, reduced to vague bass tones, he becomes unnerved by the contrast; the lack of sound isolates him, forcing him out of his familiar, stable role and ever closer to the edge of his nerves. Some scenes throughout the film oscillate between what Ruben hears (almost nothing) and what the audience would hear, underscoring just how much unattainable information passes in front of Ruben and how alien the world has become to him. Quite often the score mimics the effect, consisting of low reverberations not unlike what Ruben hears during his periodic losses of function.

The eventual realization that he can no longer deny and can never negate his emerging disability pushes Ruben into a downward spiral. Becoming increasingly distant from his surroundings, unable to participate in what is both his livelihood and his passion, Ruben begins to fracture; seeing him despondent and on the verge of relapsing into various addictions, Lou introduces him to a community of deaf individuals that functions as both a learning environment for Ruben to understand his changing lifestyle and a support group to keep him from straying back to self-destructive behaviors. At first, joining that community proves equally isolating to Ruben, who knows nothing of sign language or of deaf culture, and it appears to him a symbol of resignation to a future he desperately wishes to avoid. Yet as his condition deteriorates and he finds himself running out of options, he learns to accept his deafness, and through that he begins to connect with the people around him in a new way and evolve as a person. Losing his old world requires him to explore the new one laid before him.

The film's focus is almost entirely on Ruben, with the camera often tight against him to see what he's thinking; the prevalence of close-ups and medium shots captures the intensity of the live performances and the cramped, intimate feeling of those venues, as well as amplifying the scrutiny of Ruben by the audience and communicating the intense strangeness of every interaction that he must feel. There are three major pieces to Ruben's character, and likewise three major elements of the film as a whole.

There is first Ruben the musician, the underground gig machine whose mere presence was the outstanding characteristic that hooked me (and likely certain other viewers) into thinking that perhaps I should see this movie. After all, how many Oscar-nominated films tell the story of a metal drummer (and one who actually plays a discernible form of metal not relegated to Poison-based stereotypes)? I'm reminded as well of Joseph Roth's Radetzky March by how the motif of musical performance functions as a symbol of Ruben's connection to the world. Due to the nature of the film's premise, however, the musical aspect decreases in prominence over time; this was never a movie about music or even a musician, but about an individual and his excruciating journey, and so the second movement brings us to Ruben the deaf person. Of course this is a film about deafness - about going deaf, about being deaf, about the drastic reorganization of one's sense of self necessitated by the loss of one of the human body's most basic tools for interacting with and perceiving the world. Deaf actors account for a substantial portion of the cast and much of the dialogue is carried out in sign language, or in some deafness-accommodating hybrid format. This is once more a rare film, one that presents deafness as a fact of life and not as a mere plot device; it is depicted as a condition to be accepted and acknowledged, neither pitied nor exploited, and the fragility of that mindset causes Ruben to stumble on more than one occasion.

Most of all, however, I believe Sound Of Metal to be about Ruben the addict. His issues with substance abuse are brought up rarely and mostly through oblique reference, but it is clear that Ruben has struggled with addiction for much of his life. It is another credit to Ahmed's skill that we can see just how real that addiction is without such explicit focus - not to alcohol, nicotine, heroin, or anything else at this point in Ruben's life, but to hearing. His panicked bargaining and increasing desperation lead to comparisons of withdrawal, and Joe, the sagely but practical leader of the deaf community, tells Ruben flat-out that he has come to resemble an addict when talking about his hearing. As much as this might be a movie about deafness, it is a movie about addiction, about overcoming oneself and pulling oneself away from the next hit; deafness is the gauntlet that Ruben must run to arrive at his freedom. He needs to seek a solution to his inner problems - fear, anxiety, uncertainty, and the other roots of his addiction - rather than staving off physical symptoms.

With Ruben at the forefront of every scene and every development, everything rides on Riz Ahmed's performance - and while that can make the film feel more like a star vehicle than a complete work of its own, Ahmed rises to the challenge with expert skill. He is intense and physical during the drumming scenes, and the look of confused apprehension on his face when he realizes that he can't hear is pitiful; that he can act while drumming (again, a skill learned for this role) is incredible. He plays perfect denial - too afraid to admit his problems, slowly becoming overwhelmed by the realization that he can't escape them. He's able to be both weak and dangerous, embodying the conflicting forces of emotion, memory, and sensation that tear Ruben down.

Ahmed's performance in this film has been widely touted as Oscar-worthy. My response is that the Oscars are trash, they always have been, this should hardly be a new revelation, the only industry awards you can trust are the Metal Storm Awards (and not even them, because Bütcher didn't win the thrash category this year), and the fact that The Boss Baby is an Academy Award-nominated film but The Human Condition, In The Mood For Love, Oldboy, Alexander Nevsky, Aguirre, The Wrath Of God, and Female Prisoner Scorpion: Jailhouse 41 are not is proof enough that the Oscars are not worthy of Riz Ahmed. It was recently announced that Ahmed has indeed been nominated for Best Actor, making him the first Muslim, as well as the first person in a G.I.S.M. shirt, to be so honored. Rather than putting much stock in the prestige of the award itself, I take this as a sign that a lot of people out there have noticed what Ahmed and all of the film's contributors have achieved, and to generate enough momentum to be noticed by the Academy is in itself high praise.

He is not the only jewel in the film's crown; Paul Raci has been nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his turn as Joe, countering Ahmed's frightened, erratic sulk with a strict but ultimately compassionate sternness. Raci acts as a perfect balance throughout the film and his nomination is well-deserved. Sound Of Metal has also received nominations for Best Picture, Best Film Editing, Best Sound, and Best Original Screenplay for a total of six nominations, a rare harvest. I'm afraid I have very little to offer in the way of commentary on Sound Of Metal's competition; typically I go to the movies once a week, give or take, so I wind up encountering at least some of the year's most prominent releases in my natural course, but, you know, due to the state of things, I've been to the theater only three times in the last 13 months, and all three of those times were to see the Violet Evergarden movie (10/10, should win Best Everything at every awards ceremony and the Academy can bite my shiny metal ass for their inevitable failure to recognize Taichi Ishidate). Sound Of Metal is the only film in any of its categories that I have seen (I mean, probably; I don't even know what half the other nominees are), and thus I can offer no prediction as to how this film will perform, nor any researched justification for the results.

I have but a few comments to make about those parts of the film that do not directly concern its plot, its protagonist, or its possible honors. I love it when movies mix languages for substantial portions of their run time. Inglourious Basterds might be the most prominent recent example of film-spanning code-switching, following an international cast across multiple plot threads and cycling through tongues as contextually appropriate, but other completely random and disparate examples like The Farewell, Safe, and Dead Or Alive: Final come to mind; it's something that I always enjoy seeing, whether it's within a scene or across scenes, whatever the context. Well, not always - I've witnessed a lot of mangled Hinglish kneecap a lot of Indian horror movies - but generally I enjoy it. Maybe it's just the envy of a monolingual viewer; maybe it's how much I like the idea of a viewer expecting to watch a film in one language and then suddenly having to read subtitles. Maybe it's just cool. Whatever my reasoning, I appreciate the sizable role that sign language plays in Sound Of Metal. I will additionally note that when Ruben first seeks the counsel of a doctor and is told, "Your first responsibility is to preserve the hearing you have," I turned down the volume a good bit. Wear ear protection, kids. The cause of Ruben's hearing loss is never explicitly confirmed, but you have to know that an endless parade of high-impact noise is not going to make your hearing better.

Though I did like Sound Of Metal - it is technically well-crafted and I appreciate its methods - I think it is a film that I respect more than I love, and I don't see myself returning to it any time soon. Its somewhat obsessive focus over Ruben makes it feel like a performance piece for Ahmed as much as a cohesive story, and its overall feeling is not something I tend to look for in cinema. Beyond the vague and inarticulate reasoning for my own muted enjoyment, however, Sound Of Metal is well worth your time. Protect your ears.





Written on 17.04.2021 by I'm the reviewer, and that means my opinion is correct.


Comments

Comments: 17   Visited by: 231 users
17.04.2021 - 17:50
musclassia

Great review, I've been in a bit of a rut of not watching movies pretty much since lockdowns started, but this looks super interesting so hopefully I'll manage to get round to giving it a view in the not too distant future. The idea of a major Oscar contender prominently featuring a sludge band makes me smile too
Loading...
17.04.2021 - 19:19
RaduP
CertifiedHipster
Great piece, really nice to see a (well-written) movie review on the main page

First up, I wish Blackgammon were a real band, if anyone wants just their performance from the movie, here you go:



Also, Youth Of Today are here.

Quote:

and likely the reason why Radu kept urging me to do so (do any of my reviews not start with this line these days?)

I will send you a PM with 10 review requests soon.

I have kept up with Oscar nominations this year more than any other, though this isn't really my Best Picture pick, I'd pick it for Best Sound and Best Performance. I mean, the sound one is a given:



In terms of story, it's pretty straight-forward and predictable, so there isn't really anything plot-wise that would be too bad of a spoiler. But the way they've told this story is amazing. I'm really glad Paul Raci got a nomination too, I remember I was watching this scene, and thinking that it would be great if he got nominated, but that it would be extremely unlikely.
----
Do you think if the heart keeps on shrinking
One day there will be no heart at all?
Loading...
18.04.2021 - 00:18
Nejde
Philosoraptor
Saw this recently and was fairly disappointed. The premise is great but the movie is so slow. They could've cut it down with 15-20 minutes to quicken up the pace. Riz Ahmed is brilliant and I actually hope he wins for Best actor (although my guess is Chadwick Boseman because he passed or Sir Anthony Hopkins who is equally brilliant in The Father). Also it would be one of the biggest upsets in Oscar history if the movie doesn't win for Best sound. Overall it's not a bad movie even if it's dragging on a bit and Riz alone is worth the watch.
----
"You have the right to believe in what you want. I have the right to believe it's ridiculous." - Ricky Gervais
Loading...
18.04.2021 - 00:31
M C Vice
ex-polydactyl
1st line of the plot from wikipedia: 'Ruben is a drummer and one half of the metal duo Blackgammon, along with the singer and his girlfriend, Lou. They live in an RV while driving across the United States to perform gigs.' Are they based on Jucifer?
----
"Another day, another Doug."
"I'll fight you on one condition. That you lower your nipples."
" 'Tis a lie! Thy backside is whole and ungobbled, thou ungrateful whelp!"
Loading...
18.04.2021 - 21:53
Mehrad

Didn't like the movie, I think it starts really slow and the last 30 minutes were boring and not necessary ... the only good thing was Riz Ahmed ... I would have ended it with Ruben killing himself , because he has no money and lost his girlfriend and is not happy with the outcome of the surgery ... but what do I know
----
Ride a horse that's cleaving through the air and space of dreams.
Loading...
20.04.2021 - 18:48
The Melting Snow

Will have to check it out again. i started it, but got bored in about half an hour because i didn't like the music and the story seemed too slow.

on that note, has there ever been movie/tv series that used Doom or Gothic Metal? or even Melodic Death Metal? I'd be mighty interested in that
Loading...
20.04.2021 - 18:55
RaduP
CertifiedHipster
Shaking my head at all the people not liking a movie because it's slow.
----
Do you think if the heart keeps on shrinking
One day there will be no heart at all?
Loading...
21.04.2021 - 00:40
nikarg
Mod
Written by RaduP on 20.04.2021 at 18:55

Shaking my head at all the people not liking a movie because it's slow.

If you fancy your films to be slow, you should check out this guy. Funeral doom is too quick for his cinema.
Loading...
21.04.2021 - 02:29
ScreamingSteelUS
Editor-in-Chief
Written by nikarg on 21.04.2021 at 00:40

Written by RaduP on 20.04.2021 at 18:55

Shaking my head at all the people not liking a movie because it's slow.

If you fancy your films to be slow, you should check out this guy. Funeral doom is too quick for his cinema.

I realized that I have heard of Eternity and a Day in passing, but now I've added it to my list. I just watched An Elephant Sitting Still on Friday and I loved Jeanne Dielman, so I can do slow cinema. I even did Sátántangó in one sitting, although I did feel that its length was somewhat unnecessary.
----
"Earth is small and I hate it" - Lum Invader

I'm the Agent of Steel.
Loading...
21.04.2021 - 10:20
nikarg
Mod
^ You are a very patient man
Loading...
21.04.2021 - 18:27
It gave me both The Wrestler and The Place Beyond the Pines vibes but not nearly as entertaining. I liked the movie but it felt kind of "half way there"... the plot, pacing, acting was all there but it lacked the final touch to really bring it home. But then again, the last couple of years I've found it to be a real chore to watch new movies... the business is in a really bland state both creative and aesthetic. This one I watch from start to finish and actually felt a bit invested in so that's a huge plus
----
And what do you call assassins who accuse assassins anyway, my friend?
Loading...
21.04.2021 - 19:00
corrupt
With a lowercase c
Written by RaduP on 20.04.2021 at 18:55

Shaking my head at all the people not liking a movie because it's slow.

And here I've been wondering whether you sport that K avatar ironically. Glad to hear that you don't
----
Loading...
24.04.2021 - 10:13
Lord Slothrop

Great film and well deserved in all its praise. Don't understand the dislike here. But then again, my favorite films are slow burns.
Loading...
26.04.2021 - 00:17
Nejde
Philosoraptor
I don't have a problem with slow movies. Also during Oscar season I try to watch as many of the nominated movies as possible. And as I stated in my comment above, Sound Of Metal is not a bad movie and I would've seen even if it wasn't nominated because I'm big fan of Riz Ahmed (Four Lions and The Night Of anyone?). And compared to other nominees this year like Mank, Minari and Judas And The Black Messiah this movie is speed metal in comparison. Even The Father is a slow movie and that one was brilliant much thanks to sir Anthony Hopkins and the phenomenal script. Another Round with Mads Mikkelsen about the drinking culture in Denmark was also slow but it kept my interest through the whole movie.
What I'm trying to say is that slow doesn't necessarily mean bad. But you do need an interesting story that keeps you invested throughout. Sound Of Metal does that most of the time. Minari on the other had no story and is probably one of the most boring movies I've watched in a long time and I cannot understand how it got so many nominations.
----
"You have the right to believe in what you want. I have the right to believe it's ridiculous." - Ricky Gervais
Loading...
26.04.2021 - 07:29
RaduP
CertifiedHipster
So it seems like this one did win Best Sound and Best Editing. Well deserved.
----
Do you think if the heart keeps on shrinking
One day there will be no heart at all?
Loading...
09.05.2021 - 23:06
Mario Montes

I really enjoyed it, such a nice surprise. Didn't read this review but I watched the movie because of it.
Loading...
23.09.2021 - 19:58
Zap

Written by RaduP on 17.04.2021 at 19:19

I wish Blackgammon were a real band

First thing I thought when watching them perform in the film was "this would fit in well at Roadburn"
Loading...

Hits total: 2088 | This month: 3