The multi-Oscar-nominated Sound of Metal stars Riz Ahmed as a heavy-metal drummer whose life is in freefall after losing his hearing. Ahmed learned to play drums for the part. And he learned American Sign Language. And he learned to perform with white noise in his ears. However, he did not have to learn how to be riveting because, if you’ve followed his career, you’ll know he’s been that since day one, and he is magnificently, powerfully, heartbreakingly riveting here. If he doesn’t win the Oscar I’ll be furious. That counts for nothing, I know. But it had to be said.
It is directed by Darius Marder, who co-wrote the screenplay with his brother, Abraham Marder. At the outset Ruben (Ahmed) plays in a band with his girlfriend, Lou (Olivia Cooke). Their music is phenomenally loud. Their lyrics are screamed, violently. You and I would find it torture. You and I would not buy their albums. But they seem to have an audience, albeit a niche one, and are happy, living nomadically from a camper van and touring America constantly. (Ahmed is from Wembley and Cooke is from Oldham but they both play Americans here.)
One day he’s laying out their merchandise before a gig when suddenly, just like that, it’s as if he’s underwater. He can’t hear what anyone else is saying. It’s blub-blub-blub. He tilts his head, as if to dislodge whatever is in his ears. He then freezes, waiting for his hearing to return. It doesn’t. When he made Lou a smoothie the day before, the sound of the liquidiser was ear-splitting. Now, it’s a far-off mumble. Truly, you’ve never been more saddened by a liquidiser in your life. It is even entirely possible that you didn’t know you could be saddened by a liquidiser.