“Ruben” (Riz Ahmed) and his partner “Lou” (Olivia Cooke) are avant-metal band “Blackgammon”, playing music known for being loud and very angry, arguably a substitute for screaming into the void.

Bearing in mind the intensity, discordance and volume of the duos particular music, they have much deep seated anger to dissipate, which is alluded to later in the story.

The duo are free spirited, traveling around in their Airstream RV on a loose US touring schedule selling “merch” on the way. They keep each other on the level and away from any mental heath issues or addiction. This is hinted at by the marks on Lou’s arm and Ruben’s subtle chest tattoo, “Please Kill Me”.

During a performance Ruben starts to lose his hearing, initially an annoying inconvenience but further tests confirm his hearing will not return. For most people this would be devastating, for anyone whose life and livelihood is precariously linked to music, this represents a disaster.

Ruben does not take the diagnosis well and despite an understanding and sympathetic partner, understandably thrashes around looking for answers, exhibiting intense self loathing at his predicament.

Lou finds a space at a refuge that caters for hearing impaired adults and children. Once persuaded to stay, Ruben encounters “Joe” (Paul Raci), an ex military veteran who runs the refuge with strict rules for the benefit of all. Joe has vast reserves of patience and needs them, as he helps Ruben understand and accept his new reality. Admittedly a difficult journey that Joe has successfully navigated by not treating deafness as a disability.

Ruben is also faced with a choice of expensive hearing implants, potentially losing the hearing impaired community that has embraced him with laughter and comradeship.

The screenplay pulls no punches and takes the brave choice of making Ruben a particularly unlikable character, albeit played with skill and vulnerability by Ahmed, in an Oscar nominated role. Raci is also excellent, providing a quiet performance that resonates in the context of the story. Cooke gets less screen time but is solid in the supportive role assigned.

The film is hopeful and optimistic but assiduously avoids feel good at every turn. Tapping a few beats out on a slide for one of the kids an example, a possible better future hinted at but largely shunned by Ruben.

At times hard to stay with but ultimately worth your time as Ruben navigates his journey of self discovery. Credit also to the audio team who create an imaginative sound mix to allow the audience to experience Ruben’s hearing deterioration.


An interesting and largely sympathetic film detailing the many challenges faced by someone in this position.

By choosing a character somewhat less relatable to many of the audience may prove a challenge but the story remains worth persevering with for the suitably ambiguous denouement