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The Conservative Critic, Oscar Watch: Sound of Metal Review

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A sleeper contender for Best Picture that few have seen or (ironically) heard of, Sound of Metal challenges the buzzy forces of Nomadland, Mank and Minari for a shot at the top Oscar title. It is not unprecedented that a quiet, introspective like Metal could surprise everyone with a victory. Moonlight beat La La Land, Crash beat Brokeback Mountain, and the Hurt Locker beat Avatar (not to mention Inglorious Bastards AND The Blind Side). 

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Following the story of a heavy metal drummer who loses his hearing, sending his life into a tailspin and risking his sobriety, Sound of Metal is one of those truly rare special films which stays in your heart far beyond the credits. I’m welling up with tears thinking about it a cold 14 hours after having viewed it. 

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Why is it so special? The Conservative Critic will answer the questions: “Is it entertaining?” Does it have artistic/intellectual value?” and most importantly of all – “Is it liberal propaganda?” 

Sound of Metal Meter Check: 

Overall Rating: Incredible 

From its at times physically exhausting use of sound (and lack thereof), to its wholly human look at struggle and vulnerability and the earmarks of addiction which forever tab the book of mortal life, Metal immediately grips the viewer and does not let go. 

The viewer is taken through the film at a pace and tone which matches the anxiety and instability of its leading character including a healthy and relieving serving of serenity. Unlike movies of its kind, Metal does not hold you in a state of panic for the full length of the film but instead weaves you in and out following the ups and downs of Ruben (played by Riz Ahmed), the recovering addict who loses everything when he becomes deaf due to prolonged sound exposure as a heavy metal drummer.

Somehow, as a woman who has never suffered from addiction or played an instrument in her life or who even enjoys loud music in the car, I was able to strongly identify with Ruben and feel  deep empathy for him even in his fictional existence. 

Sound of Metal is a must watch.

Is it Entertaining? 

Rating: Extremely engaging 

As a character drama, Metal is never going to get the full perfect entertaining rating of the Conservative Critic because I never want to mislead the readers. This is no comedy or action flick. There is nothing casual about its entertainment value. But as a character driven piece of art, it is extremely engaging. The story is easy to follow and easy to relate to and the viewer never feels a sense of boredom as they go on the journey with Ruben trying to accept his new set of circumstances. 

The film runs 2 hours and 10 minutes and normally would get a big ding for such arrogance (it is a character drama after all) but viewers will not notice the time passing as they struggle and yearn with Ruben to settle his life and find his new path. 

Does it have artistic/intellectual value? 

Rating: Masterpiece

Directed by Darius Marder (Place Beyond the Pines), the film’s use of sound is by far its most innovative and interesting choice, though not the only quality which makes it a true masterpiece. Marder allows the viewer/listener to hear what “hearing” people can hear, what Ruben hears, total silence and everything in between including combinations of those perspectives blended at once. Marder is extremely creative in those transitions sometimes rattling between a creciendo of drumming to muffled clanging to demonstrate the crowd’s perspective versus Ruben’s and other time’s allowing the viewer to hear what a classroom full of deaf students with a deaf teacher might sound like even though none of them would be able to hear it. At one point, Marder had the sound of tinnitus playing over top of an otherwise extremely quiet scene which creates a physically uncomfortable environment for the viewer to truly understand the circumstances which so many with hearing loss live their day to day.

Another tool sound played for Marder was to help viewers understand how isolating deafness can be for all people but especially for Ruben who went deaf as an adult and does not have the tools to communicate otherwise. Many moments for Ruben he is withdrawn, standing alone, experiencing a different world from those who are able to communicate with sound or through signs. 

Beyond the use of sound, the acting performances were extremely strong. Riz Ahmed (Rogue One, The Four Lions) is totally transformed into a recovered addict metal drummer so much so that the viewer at times will forget they aren’t in the middle of a documentary. Ahmed plays Ruben with sensitivity and nuance capturing the purest vulnerability of a man whose mind runs too quickly and who is on the constant brink of losing himself. Ahmed manages to communicate in two short hours the entire back story of Ruben – which the viewer is never expressly told. We feel like we know him, we root for him. The viewer thinks, “he’s a good man he’s just had a hard time” without knowing a single thing about him except he is a metal drummer, he just lost his hearing and he loves a woman named Lou (played by Olivia Cooke) With only two films left to review in the Oscar Watch series, it is by far the best performance of the season actor or actress (Chadwick Boseman will win Best Actor for his role in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom anyway). 

His supporting cast only add to the excellence with Cooke (Ready Player One and we will be seeing her in House of Dragon on HBO) also nominated for an Oscar for her role and Paul Raci, an unknown with only a few small TV credits, is nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role of deaf addict counselor and mentor to Ruben, Joe. Both nominations are well deserved (though I’d argue Cooke didn’t have the screen time or impact to warrant a nomination, but she did well). 

Finally, visuals are as important to Marder as sound and the softly lit, largely pastoral scenery of the film sets a backdrop of quiet and peace for Ruben to struggle only internally with his new circumstances. 

Metal is an artistic masterclass with the educational benefit of presenting the world according to a member of the deaf community. The work is just shy of Nomadland’s Chloe Zhao who still (with two left) is the strongest Director of the pack. 

Is it liberal propaganda? 

Rating: Pretty conservative 

There is not an ounce of liberal slant to be found in Metal. In fact, by recognizing the power addiction can have over someone and the factors of personality which play into addiction including violence, emotional outbursts and a general lack of control – the film takes a pretty conservative stance. Addiction in its unglamorous truth is something Hollywood is never keen to take on. As of late, Hollywood has decided that addiction isn’t really real. They allow artists to make ridiculous claims that the function is better using drugs or that something can push them to using (as opposed to the addiction itself pushing them to use). We’ve seen this total denial of the clear patterns of an addict in their coverage of Britney Spears, Demi Lovato, Halsey and many more.

The idea of personal responsibility and choice is extremely well managed in the film and Ruben is never allowed to blame someone else for his circumstances and he is responsible for improving his life and for taking into consideration the lives of those around him.

Further the treatment of the deaf community as thriving, contributing individuals not in need of fixing is extremely well done and conservative in its stalwart commitment to civil rights, individual growth and refusal to patronize. 

Conclusion: 

Sound of Metal is an extremely worthwhile film which is on Amazon Prime and should be seen by all. It is a shame that it is such a sleeper that never got a lot of buzz going because it is truly special.

I find its odds of taking home Best Picture unlikely considering the current political climate (Asian hate is the chic issue of the libs and there are worthy contenders with contributors of Asian heritage – nationality be damned say libs! Plus its a male centric story) but if it were to manage the win it is so far the only film that I believe truly worthy of comparison to Nomadland. 

Even more unfortunately, Riz Ahmed absolutely deserves Best Actor (barring my remaining two reviews) but he is up against a deceased Chadwick Boseman who also gave a very strong performance in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom so there is no chance of Ahmed taking his deserved prize. 

All together, Sound of Metal is one of those movies you’ve never heard of that might win a prize over a bigger film leaving you kind of mad about it (UGH artsy Hollywood) until you see the film. Watch this one. 

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