I don’t like subtitles. I always felt it was an excuse for a viewer to get lazy. So when I rented Sound of Metal from TIFF, and quickly realized there were subtitles, I immediately paused the movie to check the file info.
“How do I turn these off ASAP”, I thought to myself.
Well, I discovered under the film’s description that the movie was not only purposely subtitled, but open-captioned. So ya, I felt like a piece of shit.
Some context might help understand this artistic decision. Sound of Metal is a story about Ruben (Riz Ahmed) — a heavy metal drummer who begins to lose his hearing.
Not only is the movie open-captioned, but so many technical aspects of the film play around the sense of hearing and sound.
The sound design is phenomenal. So much of what makes this film so good hinges on its sound. In my opinion, it’s award-winning good (Oscar-nominated so fingers crossed). It’s my recommendation right now that if you do decide to watch this movie, I suggest it be done with either headphones on or alternatively, if you have a good sound system, use that.
Not only does the sound elevate the movie, but the editing, how it is shot, and of course the acting performances make Sound of Metal truly special.
Riz Ahmed is fantastic in this, Paul Raci also gives a well-needed warm presence (both received Oscar nominations). However, Olivia Cooke is also really good in this too. On an unrelated note, nobody can convince me that Jon Bernthal didn’t possess Riz Ahmed for the first hour or so of this, because SO MANY of his mannerisms and body language are the exact same! I don’t know how to explain it, but if you’re curious go watch an episode of The Punisher or something because he has very distinct ‘isms’.
The editing — also nominated for an Oscar — is a huge standout. There are lots of repeated sequences that are done very effectively to show character development. It’s done best in the opening scenes by showing the contrast between some events with and without the sense of sound. Some of these shots can seem so insignificant at first, but when they come back around later, it really hits home.
The cinematography is something that wasn’t nominated but is really good. There are plenty of satisfying shots reflecting the sound in the frame (e.g field grass rustling in the wind). However, what it is most impressive is how the handheld framing of shots transitions the point-of-view in and out of how Ruben sees and hears the world vs. how the hearing audience and characters do. It’s something that is very subtle, but makes for a lot of interesting moments that reflect the dramatic impact deafness can have when contrasting moments in the film between the two perspectives.
While I was definitely expecting there to be more music and sequences with drumming, it makes sense that the movie focuses more on the struggles and adjustments that come with hearing loss more given that the film is so character-driven and intimate, and less of a spectacle.
The pacing was fairly good, though it does slow down a little bit around the midway point. I think it only felt that way to me because the first hour or so was paced terrifically though.
I did want to talk a little about the ending so if you’d like to skip to the end, scroll until you pass over the paragraph break. Okay you’ve been warned. SPOILER ALERT.
I found it odd how for most of the movie, I really didn’t like Ruben that much. I think you’re supposed to not like him for most of it, but sympathize a bit more. I think the addition of sequences with the deaf children adds to this. They each gave the movie a much needed mood-lifter. While I don’t know their names, both the child that Ruben tattoos, and the one he drums with on the slide were great and added both heart and sympathy towards Ruben’s character.
The ending was very subtle but also effective. It calls back to Paul Raci’s speech about wanting Ruben to eventually just sit in a sense of acceptance of his condition.
I came away from this feeling disappointed in myself for my significant ignorance towards the millions of people in the deaf community and their movie-going experience.
I think there’s an easy scenario where at least alternate screenings can be added to theatrical releases that open-caption the movies — similar to the way movies get alternate screenings for IMAX or 3-D. If you too feel strongly about this, you can sign a petition here for open-captioning movies in Canadian theatres.
Overall, Sound of Metal was a transportive experience for me, and honestly changed the way I think about how sound design can impact a film. For that reason…
SCORE: 5/5 (MASTAPIECE)