Sound of Metal (Darius Marder, 2019, USA)

  Darius Marder’s debut feature Sound of Metal bears the punk ethos and naturalism of his collaborator Derek Cianfrance. Marder, whose most notable screen credit up until this point was as a co-writer on Cianfrance’s excellent Place Beyond the Pines, presents a scenario which could be melodramatic - a metal drummer losing his hearing - and communicates it in a highly realistic way. It is also easy to imagine Cianfrance’s frequent collaborator Ryan Gosling in the role of our protagonist Ruben.

As played by Riz Ahmed, Ruben is a strangely absent presence in the film. We are given details about his background only through hints, and we soon learn that he is a recovering addict. When his hearing loss arrives, it is clear that he is in denial about the profound change that this will have on his life. But even so, there is something inscrutable about this performance - Ruben’s rehabilitation counselor even compares his expression to that of an owl. There is likewise something enigmatic about Ruben’s love interest and bandmate Lou. It is clear that there is a significant history between them, and they both claim to have saved each other’s lives, but Lou seems to exist more at the surface of the story.

If the characterizations leave something to be desired, the overall feel of the film doesn’t. The masterful sound design at work - which often switches between Ruben’s perspective and that of the outside world - truly conveys his situation. Despite being a film about a metal drummer, the film is remarkably silent - there are many instances, particularly in the midsection of the film during Ruben’s rehabilitation and deaf school, that are filled with nothing but the sound of insects. The cinematography is likewise gorgeous. Overall, Sound of Metal is an interesting debut which indicates great things for Marder’s future.



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