In college I had a musician friend with perfect pitch, a guy who would hear a car horn honking and announce that the sound was in B flat.
I always thought that would be an interesting way to go through life — to hear the world as it constantly tried to harmonize with itself. Or maybe it would just drive you crazy.
I thought of this while watching “The Sound of Silence,” a film with an ear-sensitive hero. This is Peter Lucian (Peter Sarsgaard), a New Yorker who works as a “house tuner.”
Peter may be the only practitioner of this particular science. He goes to the homes of uneasy people, diagnoses the inharmonious noises of the place, and tweaks them. Once the ambient sounds are improved, so are the residents’ psyches.
Maybe it’s just a clock radio with an annoying click, or a heater with a nearly inaudible hum. If it doesn’t go with the other noises in the house, something’s got to give.
This is a wonderful idea for a protagonist (it’s adapted by screenwriter Ben Nabors and director Michael Tyburski from their 2013 short film), and boy, does it suit Peter Sarsgaard. Distracted and tweedy, Sarsgaard looks like an absent-minded professor who would prefer to be alone in a room listening to the turning of the Earth.
The actor has always been good, but sometimes hard to cast; his velvety voice can sound either sensitive or smarmy, and often, disconcertingly, a little of both. But he’s exactly right as this uncomfortable introvert.
In a development that brings this odd set-up into more reassuringly familiar indie-film territory, Peter meets a lonely woman (Rashida Jones) whose apartment is out of tune. Jones, with her sitcom cred from years of service in “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation,” looks happy to operate in a more low-key mode here.
Other parts are skillfully played by Tony Revolori (late of the “Spider-Man” world), as Peter’s research assistant, and the rumpled character actor Austin Pendleton as a colleague.
A major co-star is the sound design, which, fittingly enough, tends to sound like a comforting blanket of white noise. This is director Tyburski’s first feature, and it shows a careful touch.
“The Sound of Silence” stays at a low pitch throughout, and it doesn’t unleash many surprises. I found its mood easy to like, however, and it’s always good to see an ideal match of actor and role. The movie may make you listen to the world in a different way, too.
“The Sound of Silence” (3 stars)
An ideal role for Peter Sarsgaard lifts this indie film about a “house tuner,” an introverted man who fixes the subtle auditory problems in people’s homes, thus restoring their well-being. Along with its character study, the film creates a comforting soundscape. With Rashida Jones.
Rating: Not rated; probably PG-13 for subject matter
Opening Friday: Varsity, Amazon Prime