‘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: Venom

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CREDIT: Sony Pictures

How do you make a gelatinous black alien goo-villain like Venom the hero of your movie? As the makers of Venom have decided, you have it (him?) fall in love with Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy). Although, it’s not so much love as it is deep platonic friendship. But maybe developing a deep platonic friendship is a kind of falling in love? Whatever you call it, it works.

Overall, this movie is filled with delights because of its unerringly playful approach. That applies to the action scenes, with Venom’s fluid presence shooting out in unpredictable directions. It of course applies to the back-and-forth repartee between Eddie and Venom inside his head. (Wisely, a few other key characters are aware of what is going on during these conversations, but that doesn’t make them look any less insane.) And it absolutely applies to Eddie/Venom’s constant attempts to figure out how to feed their ravenous hunger. And then there’s that tongue. Oh yeah, that tongue. We could’ve used more of the tongue, honestly. But Venom, and Venom, is more than just that tongue, and it’s better for it.

I give Venom 400 Tater Tots out of 500 Host Bodies.

This Is a Movie Review: ‘The Sisters Brothers’ is the Ultimately Charming Tale of Two Fraternal Wild West Hitmen

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CREDIT: Magali Bragard/Annapurna Pictures

This review was originally posted on News Cult in September 2018.

Starring: John C. Reilly, Joaquin Phoenix, Jake Gyllenhaal, Riz Ahmed

Director: Jacques Audiard

Running Time: 121 Minutes

Rating: R for Wild West Gunfire, Saloon-Based Vices, and the Aftereffects of a Spider Crawling Into Someone’s Mouth

Release Date: September 21, 2018 (Limited)

John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix have teamed up as a couple of brothers whose last name is “Sisters.” Reilly is Eli and Phoenix is Charlie. They’re killers-for-hire out on the frontier in the middle of the 19th century, but eliminating their marks just is not their preferred way of spending their time, plain and simple. Charlie is too busy drinking and whoring, while Eli has too much of a conscience to last too long in this business (and honestly so does Charlie). There are plenty of people who don’t like their jobs, and plenty of movies about that predicament. Certainly, “the hitman who wants to get out of the game” is a tried-and-true trope. But this is different from your John Wick‘s or your Sexy Beast‘s. Eli and Charlie aren’t hard-bitten, they’re just tired and would prefer to find something to be happy about.

The Sisters’ target is Hermann Kermit Warm (Riz Ahmed), a chemist who has devised a new method for discovering gold. It seems a little fantastical in theory, but Warm sounds like he knows what he is talking about. So when Eli and Charlie catch up to him, they decide they would much rather collaborate than kill. Same goes for Detective John Morris (Jake Gyllenhaal), who was supposed to be aiding the Sisters in this assignment but instead becomes drawn into Warm’s machinations. (This team-up is miles away from Gyllenhaal and Ahmed’s partnership in Nightcrawler, with the two giving performances that barely share any DNA with those earlier roles.) It’s heartening watching this quartet work together, for while riches do play a motivating factor, they are really more after a more general sense of fulfillment. The menace of the boss coming to collect is always lurking, but the moments of finding a mutual understanding (along with Alexandre Desplat’s surprisingly jazzy score) are enough to convince you to focus on life’s pleasures where you can find them.

The Sisters Brothers is Recommended If You Like: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix When They’re a Little (But Not Completely) Goofy

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Gold Sifters