Author: Joel Dull
Riz Ahemd’s performance in Sound of Metal is one of his best yet, but it is buried by a film that lacks a connection to its main character.
It’s probably wishful thinking to expect an American made film to spend a majority of its time watching someone struggle to sit in an empty room, but that’s what I wanted from Sound of Metal. I was begging for the movie to slow down. It’s strange to compare a movie about a metal drummer to Tokyo Story, but had Yasujiro Ozu been an inspiration to director and writer Darius Marder, my opinion would be quite different. Unfortunately, Michael Bay seems to have been more of an inspiration for Darius Marder’s poorly told story.
Reuben (Riz Ahmed) is a metal drummer who has recently and rapidly lost his hearing. He feels like his life is slipping away from him and the fast moving world is giving him no chance to save it. Along with learning to be deaf, Reuben is given the challenge to slow down. If the world is moving too fast, then he needs to learn to sit still. The movie’s great irony is that as Reuben tries to slow down, the film continues to speed on ahead. Unfortunately this is not a clever play on the formal elements of cinema. The movie doesn’t continue to move quickly to show how Reuben is struggling to slow down. In fact, the pace of the film makes it confusing to understand what Reuben is feeling. One minute he seems happy; he’s learning to live his life as a deaf person. The next he’s sitting still, taking in the rustling of a tree. Another 30 minutes of the movie go by and it turns out he still sees his hearing loss as a disability and he is unable to slow down.
The movie often finds itself showing one thing while the narrative underneath is developing a different story. The middle section of the film left me searching for an answer. What caused Reuben to make this decision? Why is he feeling this? What is he feeling? If the film slowed down to let the narrative catch up, the plot would’ve been much clearer.
It’s clear what the main conflict of the film is: Reuben thinks he can’t live his life without hearing. With each new milestone in the story, Reuben’s conflict never develops. He learns sign language and begins to live his new life, but when he is faced with his next decision, the film keeps with the original conflict exactly as it was before. It washes over how Reuben has changed, diluting his development as a character. If Reuben was outwardly showing improvement while still struggling internally, it was not shown. There’s a disconnect between the film and it’s main character. The movie didn’t understand Reuben and neither did I.
There are moments of dialogue that start the conversation about how being deaf isn’t a disability. There are also moments where Reuben is shown drumming after his hearing is lost. These moments were never taken into the plot of the film, though. They end up being disregarded because if Reuben is able to drum while being deaf, then the story that Marder wanted to tell isn’t possible. Plot hole, I think that’s what it’s called.
Marder is caught up with being clever by including metaphors, like Reuben fixing a gutter as a manifestation of his attempts to fix his deafness, and the rest of the film suffers from that. I always knew what Reuben was struggling with but I never knew how. This is all the more frustrating because Ahmed creates an intriguing character that I wanted to spend more time with.
Joel Dull | Keep casting Riz Ahmed | KXSU Digital Media Director
Sound of Metal is available to stream on Amazon Prime