Sound of Metal

Sound of Metal ★★★★½

Gobsmacking in its direct, unfussy power. Reports of this movie's exceeding greatness have not been exaggerated. Kinda reminds me of 2018's "Blindspotting" in the sense that it was this first time filmmaker's small Sundance drama with ardent fans and unanimous credentials but that didn't get much traction on best-of lists, yet instantly became that year's crowning achievement in my eyes once I was able to see it for myself. Its only novelty is the gradation of sound design, a shifting scale of frequencies from normal to tinny to nearly inaudible to silent that are used to represent the stages of hearing loss experienced by black metal drummer Ruben (Riz Ahmed). Otherwise it's a straightforward story about addiction, rehabilitation and adjusting to life's curveballs, but with every single scene and moment occurring with mesmerizing patience, tremendous humanity and step-by-step honesty that yield dam bursts of emotional fallout.

Riz Ahmed contains the movie's tempo all within his frank, open performance, playing multitudes at a time, showing common sense and naivete, anger and inner peace, warm love and aching loneliness. Acting like an actual layered human being, in other words. Before you know it you're hanging fraught on his every stare. Film acting doesn't get much better than this. Olivia Cooke, Paul Raci, Lauren Ridloff and every other participant in the cast help immensely with their measured authenticity.

In reflecting on the movie, my mind keeps flashing to that well-known Ebert quote about empathy. "Sound of Metal" is the epitome of his words, so I'll just put them all here: "Movies are the most powerful empathy machine in all the arts. When I go to a great movie I can live somebody else's life for a while. I can walk in somebody else's shoes. I can see what it feels like to be a member of a different gender, a different race, a different economic class, to live in a different time, to have a different belief. This is a liberalizing influence on me. It gives me a broader mind. It helps me to join my family of men and women on this planet. It helps me to identify with them, so I'm not just stuck being myself, day after day. The great movies enlarge us, they civilize us, they make us more decent people."

I'm also reminded of two other wonderful films that seem to share the same essence and destination: "Short Term 12" and "Cast Away" of all things. I'll leave it for those who have seen "Sound of Metal" to consider why, but for those who haven't yet, if you were moved by either or both of those titles, you'll want to see this one as soon as you can.

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