Sound of Metal – Review

A Film based on a drummer? Sign me up.

I continued my Oscar Movie Marathon with Sound of Metal. Considering the last film about a drummer i watched was Whiplash, which is probably my favourite film of the last decade, I went into this one rather excited to see another film with music at it’s heart. What I got was not what I expected.

Sound of Metal follows Ruben (Riz Ahmed), a drummer in a heavy metal duo. Together with Lou (Olivia Cooke), his other half both in the music act and in a romantic sense, they are plugging away at being a success in the music industry. Ruben begins losing his hearing, and we follow his journey as he deals with his new reality.

No spoilers as usual, but the film is not a musical in any way. Ruben’s passion and main outlet is his drumming, but that isn’t the focus. Instead you are taken on an eye opening ride into what it’s like to lose a sense like hearing. Ruben’s a deeply flawed character in a lot of ways, and losing his hearing threatens to strip away everything he knows and push him back to a past of addiction.

The couple have both clearly had troubled lives and this isn’t told via exposition or a conversation, it’s all visual. You see the scars on Lou’s arms, the suicidal thoughts tattooed on Rubens chest. It’s never the focus, but it’s there. You get the impression this couple are keeping each other stable and would be lost if separated. It’s all set up very efficiently and we get into the journey Ruben goes on.

Riz Ahmed is in every moment of this film, it is put on his shoulders and he carries it with his passionate and committed performance. You feel the anguish and frustration he feels, and you see the ignorance of someone who lives entirely for one thing. He has a sole focus and one that he is convinced will work, and is too stubborn to ever admit he is wrong.

The film shows the extremes of how I imagine I would feel if my hearing was to go. The frustration at not being able to do something you’ve taken for granted for your whole life. The difficulty adapting to the new sound of the world. It’s all laid out in this film and Riz Ahmed’s performance elevates it.

His performance is matched in this film by the sound design. I often a film’s use of silence powerful, and this does that expertly. I watched with headphones on, and I suggest you do too, as it really added to the experience. A good sound system will do the same, but the way the film flicks between the sound of the scene and the sounds Ruben can hear is unlike anything I have watched before. It’s the closest you can feel in a film to being in a characters head.

This is unlike most films you will watch this year. It’s a dive into what life is like for the deaf community, and still manages to keep an emotional hook that got me more than I expected at the end. It rides on the shoulders of a fantastic performance and unique sound design which all come together into a very good film.

That combination of all these elements is down to a wonderful directorial debut by Darius Marder who can feel a little unlucky to not have an Oscar nomination for directing. Sound of Metal has come out of nowhere to be one of my favourite films of the year.

Good: A heavy hitting look into the life of someone losing their hearing, wrapped in an emotional story told with real passion and care.

Bad: It’s quiet a lot of the time which is a bit unusual…. honestly there is not much I have to say negatively about this film.

TL;DR – Sound of Metal is a film that highlights the trials the deaf community has, and importantly how people adapt and overcome them. That message is worked into an emotional story and delivered in a very well made film.

Ready Player One Review

Hollywood icon Steven Spielberg returns to the big blockbuster movie game with Ready Player One, based on a book by Ernest Cline. Trailers bursting at the seams with pop culture references promised a film that would be great fun but I didn’t really get a feel for what the film was about. 

Straight from the off the exposition begins, and i noticed myself thinking “This is a lot of explaining being done right off the bat”. Lead actor Tye Sheridan talks us through the world as it is in 2045, and the escape provided by this virtual reality game world called the Oasis. There’s no subtlety here, its being explained to the audience to leave them with no uncertain idea about what the core of the story is, and from there the film shoots off into one of many hectic action scenes.

That first action scene is great fun, seeing the motorbike from popular anime film Akira race alongside the DeLorean from Back to the Future is surreal to think about, let alone see on the big screen. This type of pop culture crossover happens several times throughout, and these moments provide a great sense of satisfaction to nerds like me who lap this kind of stuff up. The Oasis is pumped full of references and every frame set in the virtual wonderland has something for you to pick out from another franchise.

The film doesn’t just boast nostalgic pop culture references, it also has an awesome soundtrack and score. Opening with Van Halen’s classic “Jump” is always a great idea, and the track list is up there with great movie soundtracks in recent years like Guardians of the Galaxy. It adds to the immersion in the film, and is backed up by an excellent score by Alan Silvestri.

This excellent mix of worlds from seventies films to noughties games serves to make the world the film is set in incredibly engaging. This engagement doesn’t quite extend through all its characters, particularly not the lead Tye Sheridan as Parzival/Wade. He is not bad by any means but lacks the real charisma to carry the film. Olivia Cooke as Artemis/Samantha is by far the most interesting character for me, and her character steals some of the key scenes in the film. The rest of the “High five” gang are very much background characters, with only H/Helen played by Lena Waithe given anything meaningful to do through the film.

The antagonist of the film is played by Ben Mendelsohn, also the bad guy in Rogue One. This time round his villain is very much in control and Mendelsohn exerts the authority of someone who is used to getting what he wants. Some decisions he makes in the final act of the film do feel out of character but that’s more a script/story problem than anything to do with the character himself.

The plot of the film revolves heavily around the clues left behind by Oasis creator Halliday, played by Mark Rylance. This character is fun to see on-screen, and Rylance does well in the role, but there was just too many elements that all lined up perfectly for the main characters to make it very believable for me. There is also several times when a device previously found in the film is revealed to be the perfect solution for the exact situation the characters find themselves in.

The film does touch on some interesting issues in the real world, that being the disconnect from the real world many people, young and old, feel with the advancement of technology. In this film the Oasis represents the escape that many gamers, me included, look for when playing an immersive game. On another level, we all now have our own avatars which we show off to the world through social media, and this film, perhaps clumsily, tries to reiterate that the real world is still the real important thing, even as our lives are increasingly dominated by our internet presence. Of course I am saying all this writing on a blog which I share through social media in search of some modicum of recognition from other people, so I’m just as much in the oasis as anyone else.

Ready Player One sets up an incredible world, and boasts some real memorable action sequences just due to the mix of popular characters we have on-screen. At times the references can be overwhelming, with your eyes not knowing where to look, but i think repeat viewings would be a good idea as you could easily spot 25 things you missed the first time round. Ready Player One takes you to a bright, colourful land of wonder, if only the lead character was as interesting as the world he escapes to.

Good: World building and set up is brilliant and the fun action and pop culture references combine well to make it a fun film. Olivia Cooke and Ben Mendelsohn are great fun to watch too.

Bad: Lack of an interesting character in the lead role hurts the film a little, and the film drags a bit at times, not quite justifying the two hours and twenty minutes run time.

7/10 – Spielberg returns to blockbusters with bags of style.