In 'Sound Of Metal,' A Man Whose Life Revolves Around Music Faces World Of Silence The movie Sound of Metal, starring actor and rapper Riz Ahmed, tells the story of a drummer whose sudden hearing loss changes more than just his career.
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In 'Sound Of Metal,' A Man Whose Life Revolves Around Music Faces World Of Silence

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In 'Sound Of Metal,' A Man Whose Life Revolves Around Music Faces World Of Silence

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Movie Reviews

In 'Sound Of Metal,' A Man Whose Life Revolves Around Music Faces World Of Silence

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

A man whose life revolves around music faces a world of silence in the film "Sound Of Metal." Actor and rapper Riz Ahmed stars as a drummer. Critic Bob Mondello found both the star and the movie electric.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SOUND OF METAL")

OLIVIA COOKE: (As Lou, singing unintelligibly).

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Ruben at his drumkit, bleached hair blazing in the spotlight, tattoos glistening, drumsticks a blur. Ruben spends each night as part of a wall of sound - half of that wall, actually - on tour with his girlfriend Lou, their act raw and raucous enough that you might not expect their mornings to be jazz-inflected and gentle. This is their routine - touring from club to club in an RV, he rising first...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SOUND OF METAL")

RIZ AHMED: (As Ruben) Lou.

MONDELLO: ...And exercising while she sleeps in, making them a green concoction in a blender.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SOUND OF METAL")

AHMED: (As Ruben) Do you want me to get some smoothie for you? It's healthy. Want some? I wouldn't recommend it. It's disgusting.

MONDELLO: Four years together and very much there for each other - they need to be as recovering addicts, but they're doing well, ever off to the next gig. It's when they're setting up for the next one that Ruben's life changes.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SOUND OF METAL")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Yo. You sound checked yet?

COOKE: (As Lou) No - not looking forward to it.

MONDELLO: He's standing out front, arranging their T-shirts and albums, and it's suddenly as if he's underwater. All he hears is throbbing bass. He tries to clear his ears like when you're getting off an airplane, holding his nose and blowing - nothing. When they do their sound check, he watches Lou for cues. She and the sound guys are hearing this.

(SOUNDBITE OF DRUMMING)

MONDELLO: He is not. He can see his hands moving. The sticks are the same blur as ever. He can feel that they're hitting the drum heads. But in his head, there's just a throb.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUFFLED DRUMMING)

MONDELLO: A doctor confirms he's lost 80% of his hearing, that the rest is slipping away. To support his recovery, Lou calls his sponsor, who helps Ruben get into a 12-step program for the deaf. But then Lou also needs to slip away for both their sakes, though Ruben tries to follow.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SOUND OF METAL")

COOKE: (As Lou) Ruben, you hurt yourself, you hurt me. I'll hurt myself, too.

AHMED: (As Ruben) Don't say that.

COOKE: (As Lou) Promise. Go back there right now. Promise. Say it.

AHMED: (As Ruben) Only if - I need you to wait for me, OK? You're it for me, Lou. You're my [expletive] heart. You're it for me. You know I'll fix this. It's not that hard, OK? Just come back here.

MONDELLO: Olivia Cooke's Lou is achingly vulnerable, while Riz Ahmed's Ruben is actively heartbreaking. The actor spent months learning both drumming and American Sign Language for the film, and he so inhabits the character that you can read him even when he's making sure his face is as inscrutable as an owl's.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SOUND OF METAL")

TOM KEMP: (As Dr. Paysinger) You have to understand your first responsibility is to preserve the hearing you have.

MONDELLO: First-time writer-director Darius Marder and his brother Abraham, who co-wrote the screenplay, dedicate "Sound Of Metal" to their grandmother, who went deaf in adulthood and spent years petitioning movie studios to open caption films so that she could enjoy them again. To honor her, this film is captioned with one telling exception - no words on screen for signed dialogue to give audiences who can hear but aren't ASL-fluent a sort of reverse taste of the isolation Ruben is experiencing.

It says something that the filmmakers don't abandon him to that isolation even as they increasingly let us hear the world from his point of view, I suppose. They mark what's going - the caress of music, the whisper of wind, the scritch (ph) of a toothbrush - each precious. But as "Sound Of Metal" moves from cacophony to silence, Ruben is moving, too, from frenzy to stillness and to peace.

I'm Bob Mondello.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) Gone into the rain today.

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