A drummer who starts to go deaf tries to move forward with his life.
Ruben Stone (Riz Ahmed) is a drummer in a heavy metal duo, Blackgammon, with his girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke). They live in an RV and travel the country playing together, but Ruben suddenly seems to lose his hearing. When he’s diagnosed, it’s revealed that he can only hear 20-30% of the words that are spoken to him. He is told about cochlear implants, but they are prohibitively expensive and not covered by his insurance. Putting even more pressure on the situation, Ruben is a recovering heroin addict. Lou, upon finding out, helps Ruben get into a shelter which is run by a deaf recovering alcoholic named Joe (Paul Raci). Joe informs Lou that only Ruben will be allowed to stay there, and proceeds to start helping Ruben learn how to be deaf, including learning ASL under a teacher named Diane (Lauren Ridloff). However, it’s not so easy to get over the life you once had.
I honestly hesitated a little bit in reviewing this movie. Not that it isn’t a good film, in fact it’s fantastic, but this film features a controversy which I don’t seem to fully understand (mostly because I’m not deaf). This movie brings that conflict to the forefront, and it’s whether or not cochlear implants are an affront to deaf culture. In the film, much like in real life, cochlear implants are viewed by many deaf people as a way of destroying their culture and treating deafness as a handicap. I’m going to try to avoid weighing in on that too much beyond saying that it is an issue that the film addresses.
There are really two central reasons that this film succeeds: Great sound editing and Riz Ahmed. As to the former, this is some of the best sound work that I’ve heard since A Quiet Place (which, notably, did NOT win the Oscar). The film has to convey what Ruben is going through, which is not quite deafness in the way that many movies portray it (where everything is just silent). If you’ve seen the horror movie Hush, for example, the film goes completely silent when scenes are portrayed from the protagonist’s P.O.V. Sound of Metal instead has to portray everything as muted, but not consistently so, because Ruben’s ears are not equally damaged. This would be an amazing film to watch in a theater, but, of course, this year is not the time for that. If you’ve got surround sound, though, this is the time to use it. As to Riz Ahmed, he just nails it. He has to play a person who is going through a massive life change which affects everything and, somehow, he always seems believable. He’s scared, he’s curious, he’s worried that he’s going to be tempted back into drugs, and he’s always feeling like he’s lost something.
The major supporting character of the movie is Paul Raci as Joe. Raci, who apparently was born to deaf parents and thus has about as much understanding for deaf culture as a hearing person can, constantly comes off as trying to touch Ruben’s heart in an attempt to make him feel whole. He’s not trying to tell him to get over it, nor even to accept it, he’s just trying to tell him to exist as he is. It’s amazing that he can do this while also appearing to be the kind of badass that would have punched his way through Vietnam if the Army hadn’t given him a gun. He takes no shit, but he gives a lot of affection and understanding.
Overall, this is a great film and I really recommend it.
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