I ended up, quite by chance, doing a little Olivia Cooke double bill today. First I watched Sound of Metal because it is this week’s hyped release, finally making it out on Amazon Prime adorned with awards and nominations, a year and a half after it premiered at TIFF. I also saw Pixie, the Irish mob gangster comedy, because they’ve opened up a drive in cinema at Sandown Park and that’s what they were showing.
It was external factors then, or at least things related to my own personal internal driving forces, that lead me to watch these two movies. I sat down with Sound of Metal because I’d heard it was good and thought it was one I should catch and I went out to see Pixie on the big screen because I really really miss going out to see things on the big screen and I couldn’t wait to do so. Pixie was fine (the script and story didn’t match Cooke’s performance) but sure enough Sound of Metal is the one that is special.
Even though it’s been out there generating momentum for a while, this was not a film I’ve been waiting for. Perhaps because the sound of metal of the title is not that of swords, invincible shields, magic hammers, mechanised suits or robots fighting each other. To be fair to myself though, my very favourite films of each year rarely feature those things either. The title could refer to a variety of things; the metal could be the heavy kind (the film is about a thrash musician), it might be to do with the drums and cymbals that make him and then break him or it could just as easily be mettle rather than metal (same sound after all). The key part of it is the sound though as this film is all about audio; the protagonist’s sudden loss of it and the film’s impressive design of it.
The movie follows Riz Ahmed’s Ruben as he loses his hearing and seeks to come to terms with the changes this makes to his life. Olivia Cooke plays his partner who goes with him on some but not all of the journey. Both actors are brilliant and Ahmed is getting justified celebration but actually the film feels lacking when Cooke is off screen. She is someone who pretty much always plays smart women, of which Pixie is another example, and actually Sound of Metal doesn’t do this to the usual extent but is still one of her strongest performances. She is not just the main character’s girlfriend, she is his equal and his emotional crutch and offers as much heart to the film as she does to him.
Beyond the acting the film has two other excellent aspects. The first is the way the sound design replicates what Ruben is hearing and the second, very much linked to this but not exclusively dependent on it, is how it highlights the experience of people living with disability. It should be noted though that the film stands by the belief that being deaf is not a disability at all. It seems to be skirting round this but its simple and perfect ending settles its beautiful position.
I am sure that Sound of Metal is one of those films that has benefitted from cinemas being closed and due to the great leveller that in some respects streaming has proven to be. Ahmed has already won a Globe and a BAFTA and the film is nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars. It deserves the attention though which is great because in any other year it might not have made as much noise.