Sound of Metal is a movie in three acts. The first section involved punk-metal drummer Ruben (Riz Ahmed) playing a series of one-night gigs. He’s crossing the country with his bandmate and girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke) in their Airstream vehicle.
Darius starts experiencing severe hearing loss. A doctor tells him that his condition will rapidly worsen, especially if he continues to perform. What is a musician if he can’t hear? Lou rightly fears that this trauma will destroy his four-year record of sobriety.
In Act 2, Lou checks the reluctant Ruben into a secluded sober house for the deaf. The hope is that he will learn to adapt to his new situation. The place is run by a no-BS fellow addict and Vietnam vet named Joe (Paul Raci). He is welcomed into the community, and in fact, makes some strides with signing and teaching drumming to deaf children, generally fitting in.
In the final section, Ruben chooses between his old life and his new one.
The movie was based on an unfinished 2009 project by director Derek Cianfrance called Metalhead, based on a drummer who actually did blow his ears out and had to adapt to silence. First-time director Darius Marder received Cianfrance’s blessing to complete it.
The Sound of Metal succeeds because it rings true. As this Den of Geek article explains, Marder required Ahmad to learn to play the drums for real, “without resorting to cutaway shots or using another drummer’s hands or feet for the close-ups.
“The actors would also perform live at a real-life club (the Middle East in Cambridge, Massachusetts) in front of a real audience of, as Marder puts it, ‘actual music lovers that are specific to this subset of music..’ His plan was to make the music sequences ‘impossible to fake.'”
More impressive was Ahmed’s “living with deafness and becoming part of the deaf community.” Early in that section of the film, folks at the house were signing to each other. The character Ruben at that point hadn’t learned American Sign Language and was baffled by what was going on. And so was the movie viewer.
Marder also used “startling, innovative sound design techniques” to “vividly recreate his journey into a rarely examined world.”
“Another crucial piece of the puzzle was finding an actor to play Joe… ‘Finding Paul [Raci] was really hard,’ reveals Marder. ‘Not only is he a two-time Vietnam War veteran and has dealt with addiction and taught deaf AA groups, but the man’s been acting for 30 years.'”
Adding to the verisimilitude of Sound of Metal was the deaf teacher Diane, played by Lauren Ridloff. She was a former teacher, and the-then Lauren Teruel was a former Miss Deaf America (2000 – 2002).
The critics liked the movie, giving it a 97% positive rating. The audience agreed, with 89% positive responses. Rotten Tomatoes said it was the 47th best film this past year. I watched it on Amazon Prime., and was very impressed, especially with the middle section.