Riz Ahmed’s performance in Sound of Metal is a rare thing. He has a brooding intensity and vulnerability that rivals Brando and Penn.
Sound of Metal stars Riz Ahmed, in an intense turn as Ruben, who is one-half of the heavy-metal duo, Blackgammon. Along with his romantic and professional partner, Lou (Olivia Cooke), they are embarking on a tour that will change things for them for the better. They travel across the country in their old and beat up silver airstream that is equipped with instruments and even recording equipment. Ruben has been sober for four years now after kicking a heroin addiction to the curb. He now eats healthy and music is his release that, along with Lou, has saved his life. All of that, however, he is now in danger of losing as he suddenly begins to lose his hearing. He is referred to an advocate named Joe (Paul Raci), who runs a deaf community, that attempts to help Ruben accept his situation.
Sound of Metal’s script, written by Darius and Abraham Marder (with a story from Blue Valentine’s Derek Cianfrance) is brave enough to offer themes of a “life goes on” mentality that is full of bittersweet melancholy while offering no easy answers. There is simply nothing sensationalized about Sound of Metal; right down to offering its mapping of navigating the shock of a new-found hearing loss and even its sense of the character’s role in music. It masterfully handles themes of mental health and addiction by telling a story about a being deaf that doesn’t consider the condition of being deaf a disability at all.
While Ahmed’s performance is getting some well-earned attention, Cooke’s Lou has a trickier role. She does a lovely job showing the pitfalls of when mental health is not cared for. Her transformation of getting Lou’s life in order is remarkably well done. It is the perfect complement to Ahmed’s intense turn. The honest way they both communicate Cianfrance’s themes of the pitfalls of relationships is heartbreaking. Raci’s Joe is equally important to the story and is so underplayed you may miss its enormous impact, along with its authenticity.
Though, director Darius Marder’s film comes down to Riz Ahmed’s career-defining role. He has the uncommon ability to show a brooding intensity and emotional vulnerability that reminds you of a young Marlon Brando and Sean Penn. It is a meaty role, and he leaves very little left on the bone. Ahmed plays the role entirely with a reckless abandon that is like controlled chaos confined to the silver screen—it’s a rare thing.