Oscar-winning sound drives transition story: “Sound of Metal” – Criterion Collection
Updated: Jan 9
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
Oscar-nominated Riz Ahmed plays Ruben Stone, a punk-metal drummer, and his girlfriend Lou played by Oliva Cooke, the lead singer, and guitarist. They live in an RV and travel from town to town playing their hardcore music.
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“SOUND OF METAL” – THE CRITERION COLLECTION
4K Ultra HD & Blu-ray; 2019; R for profanity throughout, brief nude images; streaming via Amazon Prime (4K)
Best extra: The enlightening 30-minute conversation between writer/director Darius Marder, and co-writer and filmmaker friend Derek Cianfrance
MANY DIRECTORS spend a lifetime trying to nab an Oscar nomination for one of their projects. But last year, first-time director and co-writer Darius Marder received a Best Picture and Original Screenplay nomination for his emotional, hard-hitting film, “Sound of Metal.”
After its limited theatrical run in late 2020 and its permanent fixture on Amazon Prime, Marder’s film ended up with six Academy Award nominations including Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor, winning the golden statue for Best Sound and Film Editing. Its critical praise didn’t end there. It also won the American Film Institute’s Movie of the Year Award, and the Independent Spirit Awards' Best First Feature for Marder, Best Male Lead for Riz Ahmed (“The Night of” HBO mini-series), as Ruben Stone, the punk-metal drummer going deaf, and Best Supporting Male for Paul Raci, as Ruben’s deaf counselor, Joe.
Raci had grown up as a child of deaf adults (CODA) and didn’t speak English until he was five years old. “He had to give a lot of himself away to his parents,” says Marder. “He was their translator always.”
(1-3) Lou shouts during a song as Ruben keeps the driving beat during the show as the band Blackgammon. (4&5) Ruben awakes and steps outside into the parking lot of the club where they performed the night before. (6) Ruben at the wheel as they head to the next gig.
The enclosed Blu-ray houses the discussion between Marder and Derek Cianfrance (“Blue Valentine,” “The Place Beyond the Pines”), who first conceived the film as an unscripted project, “Metalhead,” which eventually birthed “Sound of Metal.” Since their meeting more than a decade ago, the two co-wrote “Beyond the Pines” (2012) and talked continuously about the possible ‘Metal’ and its variations. Cianfrance had been a heavy metal drummer with a 36-piece set since his teens, listening to the music for decades, obsessed with Dave Lombardo of Slayer and Lars Ulrich of Metallica. During his mid-30s he noticed, “The sound of the cymbals just started to shatter my eardrums.” He always wanted to make a movie about a drummer who loses his hearing “because of his passion,” and has to learn to live in the “land of the deaf.”
He ended up writing a ten-page treatment, based on the metal band Jucifer, which he loved. They were a husband-and-wife band, Edgar and Amber who lived in an RV, towing their three tons of gear around the East Coast. During a show in Brooklyn, Cianfrance saw the band, Edgar was playing so hard, he shattered his cymbal. It was “one of the greatest stage presences I’ve ever seen,” he says.
Marder considers Jucifer, “The loudest band ever.” The volume from Amber’s amp was so pumped it would blow her hair. “The cinematic language of this couple … in this cacophony of noise, it just seemed so exciting,” he says.
Cianfrance approached the couple after the show and asked if they wanted to be a part of “Metalhead”? He envisioned it as a docudrama, with Edgar and Amber playing themselves in a “fictitious reality.” In real life, Edger wore protective ear plugs and his hearing was 100 percent. “I was blurring this line between the doc and fiction,” Cianfrance says. Marder says he wouldn’t have gravitated to the story if the characters weren’t a couple. “The romance was so essential,” he says.
Cianfrance started filming Edgar and Amber, but when he came to that point in the story when he wanted the couple to split for dramatic license, they were totally against it. Cianfrance decided to back away from the project, asking Marder if he wanted to finish it. “I remember saying, ‘I love it.’ But I think I’d have to write it. I’d have to build it from the ground up,'” Marder recalls.
Cianfrance gave his blessing for Marder’s adaptation.
(1) Ruben awakes and notices he can’t hear the shower. (2&3) He gets his hearing tested by Dr. Paysinger (Tom Kemp) and the news isn’t good. (4&5) Ruben finally tells Lou about his hearing loss and he’s so upset he can’t sleep.
First off, Marder demanded that he capture his version on traditional 35mm. “[For its] aesthetic,” he says. “I really like what it does on set, raising the energy.” Film magazines have their limits, holding only 400 feet of film, which translates to 10 minutes of footage. Cianfrance explains, “It’s like a game clock and the actors become like athletes. You only have ten minutes to get some points on the board.” Marder interrupts, “Because, it means something.”
Marder admits it took some time to get the middle section right when the couple – Ruben and Lou, played by Olivia Cooke (“Ready Player One”) – separate and “You jockey between the two of them … I probably wrote a couple of thousand pages in the process of finding the script.” Eventually, he realized it needed to be Ruben’s story, but the added back story was extremely helpful for Cooke’s performance. Cianfrance and Marder both credit the documentary “In the Land of The Deaf” by Nicolas Philibert as having a huge influence on their story.
After struggling for more than a year, Marder brought his brother Abraham “Abe” onboard, a known composer, who had suffered a bad injury from a mugging. “It turned out to be this wonderful partnership and lifeline for him,” Marder says. Abraham received a co-screenwriting credit: “He provided so much because of what he had been through physically.” The director also credits Ahmed’s commitment to playing Ruben – learning drums, learning American Sign Language (ASL) and not faking it. In the hard-core nightclub scene, Ahmed and Cooke are actually playing in front of 100 extras, most of them real metal fans. “The audience was really surprised that night,” Marder says.
A second featurette highlights the Oscar-winning “Sound Design,” with an interview with French designer and sound artist Nicolas Becker and the director. “I was interested in the specificity of sound in a hyper-organic way,” says Marder. Becker got his start as a sound foley artist on “127 Hours,” “Gravity,” and “Arrival.” There’s also a third featurette produced by Amazon Studios with behind the scene interviews with Marder, Becker, Ahmed, Raci, and Cooke.
A printed essay by critic Roxana Hadadi is featured as well. She says, “‘Sound of Metal’ is a portrait of transformation measured by what is lost and what is found, what is given up and what is gained.”
(1) Ruben and Lou meet Joe (Paul Raci), the leader of a special center for deaf drug addicts. Lou felt Ruben, a former heroin addict was showing signs of losing control and needed special care. (2) Ruben mentions cochlear implants, to which Joe responds, “It’s expensive.” (3) Ruben and Lou realize they must separate so he can get treatment. (4) The recovery center is tucked away in a beautiful rural scene. (5) Ruben joins his first group session. (6) The community dinners are extremely expressive. (7) Ruben helps during a summer camp for deaf children, as they feel the vibrations from a piano.
“The movie is a commentary, to an extent, on deafness as a culture rather than just a disability.” — Writer/director Darius Marder
Marder and cinematographer Daniël Bouquet supervised the new 4K master, sourced from a 4K scan from the original 35mm camera negative (2.39:1 aspect ratio). It provides a good wash of organic film grain and clarity – especially among the composed, frantic wide shots. The standard HDR10 grading offers a more cinematic experience with darker toning – especially in mid-tones – and highlights are more defined without losing detail. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the shadows are deep and black, with plenty of identity. The color palette is neutral, though slightly desaturated, including facial toning compared to the 4K streaming version on Amazon.
The maximum light level peaks at 900 nits and averages at 92 nits, while the video bitrate slides from a super output of 75 megabits per second to 108 Mbps.
There’s no eight-channel soundtrack, but an effective six-channel DTS-HD soundtrack, with powerful and distorted effects mimicking Ruben’s hearing loss, and his anxiety as a former heroin addict. The concert scene is completely enveloped by a full and dynamic soundstage, with intense highs while providing a deep bass response from Ruben’s drums. English subtitles are provided, but a separate subtitle track for the ASL scenes is missing compared to the Amazon Prime presentation. A bonus French dubbed soundtrack is provided.
“The Sound of Metal” gives an honest view of transitioning into the world of silence, with believable characters. Don’t miss this one – especially in 4K!
— Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer
(1&2) Desperate to hear again Ruben has surgery for two cochlear implants. (3) Ruben flies to Paris to see Lou, who is now living with her wealthy father Richard Berger (Mathieu Amalric) a known French musician. Lou checks out his implants. (4&5) Lou and her father perform a duet of “Cet Amour Me Tu” during a party. Ruben struggles to hear the music in the large room. (6) Ruben finally finds silence.