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‘Sound of Metal’ Opens Loudly But Ends Too Soon

Dir. Darius Mauder — 3.5 Stars

Riz Ahmed stars as Ruben Stone in "Sound of Metal" (2000), directed by Darius Mauder.
Riz Ahmed stars as Ruben Stone in "Sound of Metal" (2000), directed by Darius Mauder. By Courtesy of Amazon Studios
By Sofia Andrade, Crimson Staff Writer

In the universe of cinematic drummers, Ruben Stone, the heavy metal drummer in Darius Mauder’s “Sound of Metal,” is a classic Andrew Nieman. In short, he's a case study of how dedication, obsession and perfection come at the expense of mental — and often, physical — health.

Mauder's film follows Ruben (Riz Ahmed), a drummer in a touring metal duo with his girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke), as he loses his hearing and consequently, the rocker life he was accustomed to. From the moment of his diagnosis, Ruben refuses to listen to medical professionals who advise him to stop drumming in live shows. This sets up the main conflict: Ruben’s struggles with addiction and perilous relationship with Lou. After entering a deaf rehabilitation house, Ruben seems to connect with the welcoming lifestyle of the community, and even shares his own talent for drumming.

Joe (Paul Raci), the host at the rehabilitation house, serves as the beating emotional heart of the film — in large part due to Raci's honest and candid performance. Joe is a welcome antidote to Ruben’s frustration and stubbornness: When Ruben falters, Joe remains a patient teacher.

Mauder also takes critical steps to avoid falling into deaf stereotypes, even casting deaf actors to play deaf characters, which heightens the film’s realism and provides much-needed representation. This includes Jenn (Chelsea Lee) who is, as all deaf characters are in the film, a complex, nuanced character.

Another standout is the film's expert sound design — which takes centerstage from the loud, powerful opening scene to the serene silence in the final scene. Mauder's deliberate choices with sound design vivifies Ruben’s very relationship with sound, and allows sound itself to serve as a storytelling mechanism. For instance, as Ruben’s hearing deteriorates, the film makes a pointed effort to distort or altogether mute sound in key shots.

Ruben’s experience in the deaf community, too, is refreshing in a film largely driven by Ruben’s anger and desperation. The wide, lingering shots in the idyllic deaf community stand in sharp contrast to the dark concert scenes where Ruben drums with animalistic fervor to the tune of a shaky camera. It's a contrast as pointed as Ruben's transformation over the course of the film — from initially abrasive to compassionate.

Though the majority of the film is enjoyable, the problem in “Sound of Metal” lies in its ending. When the credits roll, audiences find that Mauder has done little to resolve the tensions between Ruben, Lou, and the deaf community. One is simply left to accept that the central conflicts have been wrapped up in a matter of minutes — with very little to show for it.

For instance, Mauder resolves one plot line by finally allowing Ruben to find peace and stillness. This is the peace that Joe had been pushing Ruben to seek throughout the film, but despite a dramatic build up, the conclusion seems fraught. Throughout "Sound of Metal," Mauder had focused squarely on how Ruben’s abrasive, impulsive personality affected his relationships with others, so to allow Ruben to find peace without atonement leaves the film feeling unfinished.

“Sound of Metal” is an ambitious directorial effort, but perhaps Mauder took on too much. The experience of addiction, of loss, of growth, of adaptation — all of which initially set themselves up at the crux of the story — are tragically underplayed by the film’s conclusion. For music lovers, “Sound of Metal” is still a worthwhile film to watch; the energetic concert scenes are enough of a draw in and of themselves. Anyone who watches, however, will also have to contend with a story that tries to do a lot but achieves too little.

—Staff writer Sofia Andrade can be reached at sofia.andrade@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter at @SofiaAndrade__.

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