Ah, the 2021 awards season, where studios held back their major product (West Side Story, Dune, In the Heights, Top Gun: Maverick) and instead opened up a sluice gate of home-viewing misery; racism, sexism, angst, illness, dementia, alcoholism and homelessness. If you had a prestige picture that wasn’t likely to make such coin, 2021 was happy to hear from you. Films that have missed release date after release date during the pandemic, now finally roll out; Sound of Metal slips into reach in the UK a good four months after an Amazon Prime release in the US generated some word of mouth. It’s a strong little indie with a great performance by Riz Ahmed, but arriving at the tail end of a motely field in the UK doesn’t do it any favours.
Ruben (Ahmed) is a drummer in a band called Blackgammon; he loves music, but is losing his hearing. His lover and band-mater Lou (Olivia Cooke) demands he get medical assistance, and with cochlear implants not an option due to the couple’s lack of financial liquidity, Ruben agrees to stay in a church-sponsored shelter run by Joe (Paul Raci). Joe encourages Ruben to seek a mental recovery rather than a physical one, but when an opportunity presents itself to move forwards, Ruben has to make a difficult choice in terms of his physical and mental health, and also his relationship with Lou.
In some countries, these films may be released in the opposite order, but perhaps any fatigue felt while watching Sound of Metal is because it follows a painfully similar trajectory to last year’s Mogul Mowgli, in which Ahmed also played a musician whose career is afflicted by a debilitating condition. Ahmed does a convincing job, and the development of Ruben’s creative self under pressure is carefully charted. And Darius Marder does a great job with his sound mix too, suggesting the way that Ruben struggles to deal with disorientating and debilitating hearing loss. Raci in particular contributes a break-out performance as a mentor-figure up to his armpits in integrity, but frustratingly Cooke’s Lou isn’t given the same screen-time or texture.
As with Call Me By Your Name, the final, unexpected codas add a great deal to this story, and are best left to the viewer to enjoy without their card being marked. But somehow the microscope of awards interest is unflattering in this case, by April 2021, the parade of worthies feels endless, and while Sound of Metal has many virtues, it feels a little lost in a field of similarly seriously-minded efforts. A cinema release is still planned in the UK, from May 17th if the virus allows it…
Sound of Metal is on Amazon Prime in the UK. Click the link below to see if it’s free for you to view.