I’ve had a little experience with the deaf community. My family’s restaurant has employed four different deaf employees in the 10 years we’ve been open and so I’ve learned a little quite a bit.
One story that stuck with me comes from an employee with partial hearing. He told me that when he was younger he received a cochlear implant to improve his hearing. He told me he didn’t like it and he would come home and plop down on his bed and remove his external processor and just lay there is silence.
The sound was too much. There was too much noise.
Many people incorrectly assume that anyone who is deaf would like to wave a magic wand and have their hearing back. But many don’t see it as disability. It actually can be a gift.
In Amazon Studios new award season contender, “The Sound of Metal,” Riz Ahmed portrays a heavy metal drummer named Ruben who loses his hearing and has to adjust to a new way of life. It’s a thoughtful and nuanced performance that should earn him an Oscar nomination. If not, it will be a huge snub. Ahmed is best known for his breakthrough role in “Nightcrawler” and his Emmy-winning performance on “The Night Of,” but he’s also shown up in some commercial fare like “Jason Bourne,” “Venom” and “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.” He gives a realistic, subtle, heart-breaking performance. He plays it with empathy and understanding.
It’s multi-layered performance. Ruben is full of anger and fear, all that can be seen on Ahmed’s face. He’s afraid of losing the one thing he loves in life, which is playing heavy metal, but he’s also afraid of continuing to lose his hearing for good. He feels accepted in his new life among the deaf community but he also doesn’t want to give up his old life and friends. He’s confused and feels lost by his new world of silence and the viewers feel it as well. On top of all of that, he’s also a recovering heroin addict who is afraid of going back to using again.
He’s trying to get the money needed for his cochlear implant to restore the life he once had but he soon realizes that there’s no going back to the way things were before.
(Side note: cochlear implants don’t provide the exact crisp audio that you and I hear and the movie beautifully portrays that with experimental sound design that puts you in his head and should win awards).
Ahmed is surrounded by solid supporting performances by Olivia Cooke (“Ready Player One,” “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”) and Mathieu Amalric (“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”).
Paul Raci, a veteran, American Sign Language interpreter and the lead singer for the Hands of Doom ASL ROCK band, steals every scene that he’s in as Ruben’s new mentor in a boarding home for deaf people. He delivers some of the weightiest lines of the movie but never makes it seem corny. There’s never a flashing neon light saying, “Here’s the moral! Here are the themes!” It’s done with subtlety.
If you were annoyed by the over-the-top hammy performances in “Hillbilly Elegy,” then you will love “The Sound of Metal.”
This is director Darius Marder’s feature length debut and he will be a name to watch for years. He creates a film about struggle, grief and acceptance that avoids the various feel-good cliches about triumphing over adversity. He makes a film that will spark a conversation after and that’s what great films do.
And while this film has bigger themes and life lesson that can be extracted, it’s ultimately a great character study. Well drawn characters that are expertly played.
Right now I would consider “The Sound of Metal” to be my favorite movie of 2020. I know that’s not saying much since this has been a strange year for movies but it truly is a remarkable movie that stays with you long after it is finished. The pacing is perfect and the acting and directing are superb. The only reason I’m not giving it five stars is personally I reserve five stars for films that are among the greatest ever made. I can’t go that far but it is among the best of the year.
The only downside is if you’re hoping for a movie about music, you will be very disappointed. The concert scenes are a very small part of the movie.
I highly recommend you don’t miss “The Sound of Metal.” You can stream it right now with an Amazon Prime subscription.