The star of “The Night of” plays Ruben, a heavy metal drummer accompanist to his singer-girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke). Marder and his co-writer/brother Abraham (the script also has a story credit for Derek Cianfrance, who worked with Marder on “The Place Beyond the Pines”) waste no time getting to the meat of their story. Mere minutes after meeting Ruben and Lou, we’re watching the drummer realize that his hearing is drastically disappearing. This is not a mere ringing in the ears or minor hearing loss. At his first meeting with a doctor, he gets word after word wrong, and he’s told that he’s lost 80-90% of his hearing, and the rest will likely soon follow. With a few exceptions, Ahmed plays it subtle, conveying the quietness that often comes with fear and denial. He can play through it. He can get surgery. Everything will be fine. Let’s go to the next show.
However, Lou knows there’s another problem to consider—Ruben is a recovering addict. He’s been clean for four years, but she knows that trauma often leads to relapse, and knows that Ruben needs focus or he will destroy himself. How many of us have pushed away our demons or even just our character flaws with activity and noise? We so often distract ourselves from our darkness through any means necessary. Imagine becoming an expert at something like drumming only to have it all ripped away, and then imagine not being able to use the standard crutches that you did so often in your life to make yourself feel better. “Sound of Metal” will be classified as a drama about deafness, but addiction is a notable part of this story, and just as accomplished.
Lou rushes Ruben to a facility run by a man named Joe (Paul Raci), who tells the drummer that this is not a place to fix him. It is a place to teach him how to live with deafness, not to correct it. In a sense, it is a different kind of rehab facility. The bulk of “Sound of Metal” takes place here, and again Ahmed achieves so much nuance with Ruben’s journey. He plays him mostly as an observer, watching deaf kids learn in a classroom or listening to Joe’s advice. Joe pulls even more distractions away from Ruben, forcing him to sit and write his thoughts and feelings. In many ways, “Sound of Metal” is a movie about a restless soul forced to find calm and peace.