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Sound of Metal

The Criterion Collection // R // September 27, 2022
List Price: $39.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Ryan Keefer | posted October 4, 2022 | E-mail the Author
The Movie:

When word of Sound of Metal first came out I was a little skeptical of the film, not for what it was about but it was in that vein of films designed to win a bunch of awards, led by its charismatic, capable star from Rogue One in Riz Ahmed. But the old guy who likes heavy metal was more inclined to give Sound of Metal a try and brother, I'm glad I did.

Darius Marder had previously written The Place Beyond the Pines but Sound was his directing debut, co-writing the script with Pines director Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine). Sound gives us Ahmed as Ruben, a drummer in a heavy metal band who travels with singer Lou (Olivia Cooke, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl) when he starts to notice his hearing going away. He learns that he should stop playing music and preserve what he has of his hearing, which he has trouble processing but soon learns about the things and people in the deaf community that resonate most with him.

Sound of Metal makes you feel a lot of things, but after revisiting it again (after it had premiered on Amazon's Prime Video services), I had forgotten how it was less about any dramatic ploy about losing your hearing and more about losing one's identity in something they enjoy doing. A lot of what goes on in the film isn't said explicitly but it doesn't have to be, but Ruben is a recovering addict, and seems to have found a salvation in music and drumming that gives him a certain order. He gets up early and gets stuff ready for Lou's day, which contributes to this control he has over things. Becoming deaf deprives him of that control, which he attempts to regain through the course of the film, and his quest to find the next part of his life is the real story of Sound of Metal, not whether or not Ruben can handle many more E chords.

Ahmed handles drumming and signing almost as well as he does his acting, which is to say you'd never know he's trying to acclimate to his new life. Cooke matches him stride for stride (and in a welcome surprise, Mathieu Amalric (Diving Bell and the Butterfly) plays Lou's father, who…may be slightly resentful of Ruben taking her to America? But the revelation of the film is Paul Raci as Joe, who runs a house for older men and women who are also hard of hearing, who are addicts. Joe lost his hearing later in life as well and is an addict also. His relationship to Ruben is patient and instant, and Ruben takes to the camp quickly after some initial reticence. When Ruben takes measures that force Joe to kick him out, the feeling is sadly mutual. Both know that Ruben has to go, Joe is so crushed to deliver the news and the way he tries to compose himself in the moments following is amazing. Daniel Kaluuya won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Judas and the Black Messiah, but one could have made a strong case for Raci to win the award, which Coda got a bunch of trophies for a couple of years later.

It's been a couple of years since I first saw Sound of Metal and the technical manner Ahmed and the viewer experience the hearing degradation remains as impressive, perhaps even more so, which makes this hearing loss compelling to listen to. But it's the action beyond the sound that make Sound such an emotionally impactful film, and one worthy of whatever hype it was given.

The Blu-ray:
The Video:

Criterion created a 4K master for this (there is a separate 4K version from Criterion) and it looks excellent, with club sequences showing off the inky darkness of a nightclub followed by lush greens of an almost idyllic retreat. Greys, red and browns of French cityscapes also look natural and without saturation issues, and flesh tones and textures are present, ample and convincing. In 4UHD streaming it looked OK when I first saw it, and it's almost up to the task in regular old Blu-ray.

The Sound:

The film won an Oscar for Best Sound and you can understand why in this one, as the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack provides the power of the band's music early on, the sounds disappearing in Ruben's head, and the tinny nature of cochlear implants and its chaos in the user's mind. The lack o sounds makes it just as much of an element as well, and the mundane sounds are startling when they show up, even if they are a blender or a oven burner in a camper van. Dialogue is clear when exhibited and the film's sonic experience remains impressive, Criterion gives it a good showing off.

The Extras:

Starting things off, there's a conversation with Marder and Cianfrance (29:05) where they talk about how they met, moving from Cianfrance's short to Marder's feature, and the preparation to do Metal. Marder talks about working with his brother, on Ahmed's preparation for the role and on the cast in general, with particular praise for Raci. Thoughts on the deaf and addiction communities are recounted as well, making for an interesting, engaging conversation. A feature on the sound design with Marder and Becker is next (25:19), as it gets into intent and execution, Becker discusses his origins and his work on the film, and how they made Ahmed deaf, and some interesting things on hearing loss that most may not know. There is a behind the scenes piece (14:10) which includes interviews from the cast and from Marder, while a music video (5:18) is next, along with the trailer (2:40).

Final Thoughts:

While Sound of Metal remains a superb film to experience both technically and through its storytelling, the Criterion version of this title seems a little on the light side. The extras are informative but come off a little on the scant side. Technically the disc is excellent, and if you haven't seen this one before, now's your chance to do so.

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Highly Recommended

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