‘Sound of Metal’ Review: Riz Ahmed Fights to Retain His Hearing and Sobriety

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Sound of Metal (CREDIT: Amazon Studios)

Starring: Riz Ahmed, Olivia Cooke, Paul Raci, Lauren Ridloff, Mathieu Amalric

Director: Darius Marder

Running Time: 130 Minutes

Rating: R for Language, Mainly

Release Date: November 20, 2020 (Theaters)/December 4, 2020 (Amazon Prime Video)

The premise of a rock ‘n’ roll drummer rapidly losing his hearing offers plenty of storytelling possibilities. But when you also throw in prior drug addiction, well then, it’s pretty much a guarantee that the story is headed in one particular direction. In Sound of Metal, Riz Ahmed plays Ruben Stone, the drummer in question, who is robbed of his most important sense suddenly and instantaneously. His bandmate girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke) is worried about him, but she’s more freaked out when he steps out to smoke a cigarette, as it could portend a relapse into something a lot more fatal. Ruben soon finds his way to a sober living program for deaf people, run by Joe (Paul Raci), a Vietnam veteran who lost his hearing from a combat explosion and then chased away his family with his alcoholism.

At the core of Sound of Metal is a question of trust, or rather, several questions of trust. Can Ruben buy into the system he suddenly finds himself thrust into? Can Joe accept into his fold someone who’s so resistant to his program? Ruben is clearly more interested in fixing his ears than his head, while Joe’s agenda is very much the inverse. But with a cochlear implant costing tens of thousands that Ruben doesn’t have and no other deaf-targeted sober programs anywhere, he doesn’t have any other good options. Eventually, a moment comes in which Joe tells Ruben that he’s irrevocably broken his trust, and while I believe that Joe sees it that way, I have my doubts that Ruben deserves the full blame, as the strict standards were never the best fit – or any fit – for him.

If you choose to see Ruben and Joe as two reasonable people who just aren’t working together (as I do), then Sound of Metal‘s conflict becomes less about the untrustworthiness of the addicted mind and more about how water and vinegar may not mix, but they can co-exist. Ruben’s ending is so surprisingly happy that I initially thought I must have missed something. He recovers his hearing as best as he can, he and Lou remain together, and Lou reunites with her semi-estranged father (Mathieu Amalric). It’s almost like they’re a perfectly happy and healthy family! But it’s not quite perfect, or at least it’s not as natural a fit as it once was. The music career is in flux, and while Ruben’s hearing may not have disappeared completely, he does have to learn how to adjust it to a new reality. It’s an askew conclusion because it’s actually an awkward beginning

Sound of Metal is Recommended If You Like: Navigating thorny life crises

Grade: 3 out of 5 Decibels

This Is a Movie Review: ‘At Eternity’s Gate’ Reveals Willem Dafoe as an Uncanny Vincent van Gogh

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CREDIT: CBS Films

This review was originally published on News Cult in November 2018.

Starring: Willem Dafoe, Oscar Isaac, Rupert Friend, Mads Mikkelsen, Mathieu Amalric, Emmanuelle Seigner

Director: Julian Schnabel

Running Time: 110 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Intense Mental Turmoil and the Fallout of Self-Mutilation

Release Date: November 16, 2018 (Limited)

Wow, does Willem Dafoe sure look like Vincent van Gogh. I had never noticed the resemblance before, but now that the actor has played the Dutch painter in At Eternity’s Gate, I cannot unsee it, and I am left to wonder how I never noticed it before. Perhaps adding a bandage to cover up an ear (or where an ear should be) was essential for making the similarity come into focus. Casting a lookalike actor is not exactly the most impressive cinematic feat, but its effectiveness can transcend its lack of difficulty, as is the case here. The effect is complete only if the actor manages to forge an emotional connection as striking as the physical one. Dafoe is certainly up to the task, with the deep pools in his eyes conveying the sublime weight of the world that hung upon van Gogh’s face.

Van Gogh is one of the most famous examples of the troubled, mentally ill artist. Director Julian Schnabel does not romanticize that side of him, but nor does he attempt to remove it entirely from his creative process. Depression probably made it more difficult for van Gogh to get his work done, but it also forced him into certain perspectives that are strikingly illuminated in his paintings. However, At Eternity’s Gate is less about van Gogh’s creative process and more about how he relates to the world. He has trouble relating to most people, just as they have trouble understanding him. But he does have at least one cherished friendship, with his fellow post-Impressionist, Paul Gauguin (Oscar Isaac). My brother was telling me that he heard that Gauguin’s purpose in this film is essentially to regularly ask van Gogh, “You doing okay?” That is correct, and it is a crucial purpose. In the film, the ear-cutting incident is played as a moment of panic when van Gogh fears that Gauguin is going to abandon him. It is a highly relatable situation for anyone who has ever experienced anxiety related to their friends moving on in their lives, and it serves to make the struggles of someone who lived over 100 years ago less abstract. The world can be overwhelming, and it has been for some time. Somehow van Gogh made his mark on that journey. We should cherish that for what it is worth, whatever that inscrutable value is.

At Eternity’s Gate is Recommended If You Like: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Melancholia, Willem Dafoe in a starring role

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Starry Nights