Sound of Best Actor

By: Isaac P. Ale

February 10, 2021

Riz Ahmed in Sound of Metal Sound of Metal [2019]


First and foremost, we need to mention the intro sequence of this film. Ruben (Riz Ahmed) going off on those drums made me physically exhausted. I am probably the furthest thing from a drummer, so naturally I needed to wet my whistle after working so hard watching Ruben absolutely slay that set (see: Froth).

Speaking of slaying, this was one of the most magnetic performances I've ever seen in a film, and let's just say I've seen a lot of films.

Via giphy

It is hard to think of a performance this year that is even close to Riz Ahmed's role in this film, and I don't say this just to join the chorus of praise for Riz. This feels like Leo in The Revenant type Oscar buzz, you know where he was out there eating buffalo hearts or something, and you just felt the impending Oscar nod (knocking on wood right now to prevent any sort of jinx).

Anyways, there are no real extraneous shots in this film that don't contain Ruben (Riz Ahmed). There's no real B-story and no fully established supporting character arc. This movie is 2 hours of Ruben and his journey; and he is flawless. Ruben isn't meant to command the screen through charisma or humor, but through empathy and emotional connection with the audience. With some actors, this can be a nearly impossible feat. Here are a couple examples that come to mind and feel comparable:

  1. Ryan Reynolds - Buried (2010)
    • Quite literally the only thing on the screen, Reynolds does a great job transporting you into his predicament and you feel his terror and panic.
  2. Tom Hardy - Locke (2013)
    • I loved this movie and this performance- I find it to be quite overlooked and underrated, but Hardy does an incredible job engaging the audience and allowing them to empathize with his life falling apart all in one car ride.

Both performances are very good, but Riz Ahmed in Sound of Metal is simply on another level. With near 100% of the screen time, he puts you in his shoes the whole time. The changes in facial expression, the emotional rollercoaster he goes through. A good amount of it is directing as well, the absence of subtitles when Ruben first gets to the shelter and throughout the school is meant to keep the audience as disoriented as Ruben. But even during these scenes you can't take your eyes off of Ruben. The shifting expressions in his face, his sinking posture, the lost glances around the table. Honestly, I don't think I've ever had a performance reel me in quite like that, and he keeps you right there with him the whole duration of the movie!

With the nod to the directing, I must also acknowledge the sound editing and mixing. The changes between the outside world's sounds and how Ruben might be hearing things adds an exclamation point to Riz's performance. One of the more captivating instances of this, where I really channeled my mother and let out an audible "Oh my gosh," was during the scene of Ruben's hearing test. The camera has us in the room with Ruben hearing the muted noises of the proctor, and again, we are just as lost as Ruben- these sounds are hard to discern from one another... Only to have the point of view change to the doctor's side of the window, where we can clearly hear the words he's saying. Ruben is either repeating them incorrectly or missing them completely. From this point of view, we can also examine Ruben's expressions and overall demeanor, which I'm just going to say for the 5th time or so, is impeccable. Every scene is meant to double down on the journey Ruben is going through, and it is 10000% more effective with Riz at the zenith of acting.

Riz Ahmed Sound of Metal [2019]

Lastly can we please talk about the ending??

Sound of Metal is an emotional rollercoaster, transformed into an absolute experience from Riz Ahmed's acting, but the finale teleported me to another plane of existence. Ruben's whole character arc is about how he needs to be on the move, from living in an RV and touring across the U.S., juxtaposed with his inability to sit at peace in a room. His whole life is mobility, but throughout the movie he becomes more rooted, not in a physical location, but in his mind and body. At the shelter, Ruben's given job was to learn how to be deaf, as the shelter is founded on the idea that being deaf isn't a handicap and isn't something that needs to be fixed. Despite his personal progress, Ruben struggles to fully move on and opts for cochlear implants surgery.

But the final scene of him in Belgium, when Ruben is hearing all the feedback from his implants and the metalic noises around him, seeing him take his implants off and do the one thing he's never done in his life- sit still and exist- was transcendent. I'm not sure how long that scene was, it could've been 5 seconds, it could've been 2 hours. I was captivated either way.

Bravo to the director (Darius Marder), the sound team, but all of my highest praise goes to Riz Ahmed. Please for the love of everything and then some give this man an Oscar.


In reality I tried to pick the most "metal" sounding beer I could find, and it just so happened to also be delicious. Irish Death is a smooth and exquisite dark beer that Iron Horse Brewing refuses to classify as anything other than a "strong ale". Sitting at 7.8% ABV, it is certainly strong, but I can understand their viewpoint as it doesn't really fit into the pigeonhole of a stout or a porter. While the name is quite "metal," the taste profile is anything but. If you're looking for something they call "beer candy," this is just for you, and don't be deceived by that phrase- Irish Death is no sugary treat but a full bodied cocktail of cocoa, coffee, and malt.

Irish Death
Iron Horse Brewery
Strong Ale - American | 7.8% ABV