About as far from a typical Oscar contender as you could imagine, the indie Sound of Metal has nonetheless proved to be a genuine long-distance runner since it debuted a year and a half ago at the 2019 Toronto Film Festival. Few would have guessed that an intense, up-close study of a heavy metal drummer who suddenly goes deaf might actually have the makings of an audience favorite destined to be nominated for six Academy Awards including Best Picture, Actor, Supporting Actor and Screenplay. But so it is for this Amazon Studios release centered on exceptional, Oscar-nominated performances by Riz Ahmed and Paul Raci and directed and co-written by Darius Marder in his dramatic feature debut.
The opening focuses on the relentless drumming by Ruben (Ahmed), which serves as a reminder that hard rock drummers really do live on a different planet. But when Ruben returns to Earth having lost a faculty essential to his life and work, he’s forced to seek help at a rural facility for the deaf, where he receives crucial help from a center supervisor (Raci, making his career breakthrough in his 70s).
Marder witnessed the trauma of hearing loss first-hand when his grandmother’s hearing shut down in her 60s. “She was sort of stuck between the hearing world and the deaf world,” he said during the Amazon Studios panel featuring him, Ahmed and Raci at Deadline’s Contenders Film: The Nominees awards-season event. “She was a cinephile, so she fought for the rest of her life to get films captioned.” He compared directing for the first time to “a high wire. It was all about not being safe. It’s intoxicating and it’s challenging.”
Ahmed’s first show business career was as a rap singer, so he knows the music scene intimately. All the same, “I think drummers are a breed apart. There’s a volcano in the chest of every drummer. There’s something in there just exploding and playing the drums is a way of kind of harnessing that explosion and turning it into something healing and cathartic, for themselves and others. When you play the drums it informs the way you carry yourself in the world. And when you have that taken away, what do you do with that volcano?”|
Check out the panel conversation above.