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film review

Riz Ahmed stars as Ruben in Sound of Metal.Courtesy of Amazon Studios/Courtesy of Amazon Studios

  • Sound of Metal
  • Directed by Darius Marder
  • Written by Darius Marder and Abraham Marder
  • Starring Riz Ahmed, Olivia Cooke and Mathieu Amalric
  • Classification R; 120 minutes

Rating:

3.5 out of 4 stars

The past nine months have made an excellent case for the continued existence of movie theatres. No matter a production’s scale and ambition, it is generally best to watch a film in the dark cocoon of a cinema, where the screen and sound are so overwhelming that (most) distractions are extinguished. Even watching, say, Ron Howard’s dreadful Hillbilly Elegy the other week on my laptop, I longed for the opportunity to see it displayed in a grubby multiplex, if only to magnify its deficits.

But the new drama Sound of Metal is, with apologies to the handful of Canadian cinemas screening it this weekend, a movie perfectly engineered for home viewing. Particularly with the best set of headphones that you own.

Following the journey of heavy-metal drummer and recovering drug addict Ruben (Riz Ahmed), whose life is upended when he starts to lose his hearing, the film is an intensely unique sonic experience that demands careful and focused aural attention. By largely limiting the film’s sound to whatever Ruben is able to hear – the pounding thud of his drums, then wavy murmurs of white noise, scratchy vocals, the imperceptible pings of everyday life, and ultimately nothing at all – director Darius Marder creates an immersive experience that is best served with as little distance between a screen’s speakers and your ears as possible.

While I’m certain that a well-equipped theatre system would do justice to Marder’s vision – I can only imagine what this might sound like inside TIFF’s Lightbox Cinema No. 3, with its 4K Dolby Atmos system – the film works tremendously well in the quiet of one’s home, too, noise-cancelling headphones wrapped securely around one’s head. You are instantly thrown into Ruben’s plight, compelled to ride his wavelength of high anxiety alongside him. (Critically, Marder is careful to introduce characters who don’t view Ruben’s condition as a disability that must be cured, but rather something to embrace and deal with.)

The film’s sound design might not be as impactful, though, were it not for Ahmed’s powerhouse performance. As his hearing deteriorates rapidly, Ruben goes through the typical stages of grief: denial, bargaining, acceptance. But Ahmed, fired up and intensely committed, turns Ruben into more than a mere victim of life’s circumstances. He is a hero and his own worst enemy, a portrait of the contradictions that erupt when the control that we thought we had over our lives is wrested away.

All that said: Will I see Sound of Metal in theatres once they reopen? As many times as possible, yes.

Sound of Metal opens in select Canadian theatres Nov. 20, as well on TIFF’s digital Lightbox platform (digital.tiff.net). It will be available digitally on-demand starting Dec. 4

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