Review – The Sound of Freedom

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Overview

Synopsis Tim Ballard, an experienced government agent and investigator, makes it a personal mission to track down a missing human trafficking victim in Columbia after a harrowing discovery is made.

Length 2 hours, 11 minutes

Release Date July 4, 2023

 

Rating PG-13

Distribution Angel Studios

Directing Alejandro Monteverde

Writing Rod Barr, Alejandro Monteverde

Composition Javier Navarrete

Starring Jim Caviezel, Mira Sorvino, Bill Camp

There has been a lot of buzz in the past week about the release of the new Angel Studios film The Sound of Freedom, which was released on July 4th and almost immediately earned its budget back through strong word of mouth. The movie almost immediately drew controversy.

It outgrossed Indiana Jones and The Dial of Destiny the Tuesday night it came out, leading many culture warriors to declare the tiny Christian film was outperforming the massive Disney blockbuster. As a result, multiple major websites released excessive articles defaming the film as paranoid conspiratorial nonsense for right-wing nutjobs.

The reality is more complex than that, with the film itself being not nearly as controversial nor dramatic as the accusations being made around it.

Content Guide

Violence/Scary Images: The movie is about the horrors of child sex trafficking and child pornography, but does not depict either on screen. It is quite candid and implicative about the horrors of these practices though.
Language/Crude Humor: Some very heavy language and crude references to sex and pedophilia.
Drug/Alcohol References: Heavy smoking and implied drug use throughout the film.
Sexual Content: The film explores child sex abuse, pedophilia, and sexual violence, although none of it is directly depicted.
Spiritual Content: The film’s lead characters are explicitly Christian and repeat the phrase “God’s children are not for sale” repeatedly throughout the film.
Other Negative Content: The film’s “based on a true story” details are highly exaggerated, even if the underlying factual claims are not.
Positive Content: An earnest attempt to raise awareness for real-life sex trafficking and sexual violence against children.

Review

It isn’t uncommon for discussion about a film to be less about the film itself and more about the culture around the film. Art doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and sometimes the piece of art itself is less important or interesting than the debates it creates, or the controversies it stirs. Case in point, Angel Studios—the creators of The Chosen—have just released one of the most contentious films of 2023. Sound of Freedom is—by itself—not a terribly controversial film. It is pretty good and has received widely positive reviews for being a fairly good movie. 

It has its flaws, as most nominally Christian films do. The lead character is too much of an uncomplicated cipher, too tactically effective and morally pure to make a compelling lead for the story. The film’s structure is a bit awkward, with a huge second-act climax and a third-act that drags a bit. It’s a cheap movie and its storytelling is unsubtle and lacks some of the grit that would make a story like this feel more like a larger film. But as far as the genre goes, it’s pretty good. The filmmakers clearly have learned the Nefarious lesson, that “Christian” films can benefit a great deal from darker subject matter. 

The story follows the “based on a true story” events of the life of Tim Ballard (Jim Caviezel), a Special Agent for Homeland Security Investigations who hunts down active pedophiles and criminals within the United States. When an investigation leads to the discovery of a young boy, the weight of his job breaks him down and leads him to take a personal mission to Columbia to personally track down and save the boy’s sister, creating an organization that works with local police to bust human trafficking rings.

What makes the film challenging and controversial is its subject matter and marketing. Sound of Freedom is about human trafficking and sex slavery, two topics that have become hot topics in recent years due to their association with the Qanon movement. 

This is not to discount the problem. Sex trafficking is a horrific real-world problem, and advocates are quick to remind people that more people are in sex slavery now than there were legal slaves at any point in history—millions of people. And the movie is trying hard to bring light to this issue. The movie unfortunately bumps into several real-world problems—the first being hagiographical in nature. The movie is “based on a true story”, but several news publications have challenged this narrative, noting that the real-life peoples and groups are far more sketchy, untruthful, and ineffective than they’re portrayed in the film. 

Secondly, the movie has been absorbed into the very controversial culture war battles around Qanon—a small but potent political movement that claims that former President Donald Trump was attempting to oust a culture of vampire pedophiles from the deep state that tortures children for adrenalized blood and sacrifices them to Satan. This second controversy was made more potent when the film was given the thumbs up by actor/director Mel Gibson, who has become infamous for his aggressive Traditionalist Catholic public stances and one-time drunken antisemitic rant. 

More than anything, these last two points have contributed to a film discourse that’s more interested in who is watching the film than what the film is about. As The Guardian writes, the film’s reception and “almost willfully misleading framing allows for the David-and-Goliath narrative trumpeted by supporters; as the copious tweets accusing Disney of being in cahoots with a global cabal of high-power pedophiles make clear, the truth doesn’t have too much purchase around these parts.”

Angel Studios has certainly attempted to lean into the controversy, borrowing its marketing strategy for The Chosen with a “pay it forward” scheme that allows audience members to claim free tickets for the movie, claiming that it’s an IMPORTANT film for people to see. During the end credits, Caviezel gives a special message and notes the film was actually shot five years ago and became caught up in legal issues, halted by forces within the entertainment industry. This appears to be mostly true. The film was shot by 20th Century Fox before Disney decided to shelve the rights for years, eventually selling them to Angel Studios. 

Whatever Disney’s logic was, it’s definitely given the film a perverse claim to legitimacy, that it’s “fighting the powers that be” and revealing the hidden truths Hollywood doesn’t want you to know (although one does wonder why Disney would want to sideline a film like this).  

Again though, this has little to do with the film itself, which probably isn’t as interesting as the drama. Setting aside Gibson’s endorsement and Caveizel’s comments about Pizza Gate on Steve Bannon’s podcast, the movie itself isn’t that controversial. It’s nominally admirable, if merely average. It does a decent job making the most of a $15 million budget and doesn’t do anything too absurd. Its plot and characters are a bit undercooked, but it’s mostly functional. 

To quote Variety’s Owen Gleiberman, “You needn’t hold extreme beliefs to experience Sound of Freedom as a compelling movie that shines an authentic light on one of the crucial criminal horrors of our time, one that Hollywood has mostly shied away from.”

It would be nice if the discussion of the film was about the film itself and Angel Studio’s impressive growth into mainstream acceptance and success, but we live in a Post-Jeffrey Epstein world. Sex trafficking is real. And the Qanon movement is real. These two facts are going to mean that the film is going to bump into a few public debates on the way into movie theaters. If it makes any dent in sex-trafficking awareness, it will have done a good thing. However, It would be nice if Hollywood wouldn’t act so weird about sex crimes.

Positives

+ Solid production design and budget
+ Interesting side characters
+ Earnest message/theme

Negatives

- Somewhat weak script with middling lead character and strange ending
- Controversial marketing

The Bottom Line

The Sound of Freedom is a movie that is selling itself on being controversial, but the core ideas it espouses are uncontroversial. Sex trafficking and child abuse are real, and if the movie helps make a dent on those issues it would be a good thing, but wouldn't speak to it as any sort of modern masterpiece.

 

7

Tyler Hummel

Tyler Hummel is a Nashville-based freelance journalist, a College Fix Fellow, and a member of the Music City Film Critics Association. He has contributed to Geeks Under Grace, The Living Church, North American Anglican, Baptist News Global, The Tennessee Register, Angelus News, The Dispatch, Voeglin View, Hollywood in Toto, Law and Liberty, The Federalist, Main Street Nashville, Leaders Media, and the Catholic Herald of Milwaukee.

3 Comments

  1. Courtney Floyd on June 22, 2024 at 12:28 pm

    This is a super helpful review! I tend to shy away from Christian movies since the ones I’ve seen have been underwhelming as movies and overwhelming as propaganda. (This is coming from a Christian!) But I’m glad to see Angel Studios moving into darker subjects, and now I want to watch this movie. Thanks Tyler!

  2. Phoenix Rising on August 11, 2023 at 10:31 pm

    This film starring a QAnon believer who plays a QAnon believer involving one of the central aspects of the QAnon conspiracy theory and being actively marketed to adherents of QAnon and Q-curious conservative folks aside—and based upon the many paragraphs that you devote toward this narrative in your review, this push requires Herculean effort— taking Gleiberman’s quote at face value requires equally prodigious effort: “shines an authentic light on one of the crucial criminal horrors of our time, one that Hollywood has mostly shied away from.” Okay, Taken (2008) was filmed on a budget of $24 million, arguably inspired by Born into Brothels: Calcutta’s Red Light Kids (2004) winning an Academy Award for best Documentary Feature.

    I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that human trafficking is a terrible subject matter—arguably so soul-crushing that it’s easier to produce (neo)slave narratives like Twelve Years a Slave (2013) or Antebellum (2020), because at least the audience can say, “Whew, we can put that behind us!” Because that is largely in the past—13th (2016) aside. But as I type this comment, unspeakable things are being done to thousands of boys, girls, men, women, and yes, even trans and unisexed people of all ages, and they will eventually perish in that condition without chance of rescue. Frequently, “Hollywood-produced” films like Taken even portray human trafficking as something some big organized crime underbellies do, when statistically, friends and family members are more likely to get their victims to turn tricks. But “stranger danger” fits the narrative….

    A Google search will produce MANY films that take on the issue of human trafficking, including The Chosen Ones (2015), which was also granted an Academy nod. Thus, “taking Hollywood to task” is a slight-of-hand, because that is a for-profit industry. If The Sound of Freedom is supposed to be raising awareness of human trafficking, then it is barking up the wrong tree, and that $15M would have been better spent on the Polaris Project or Operation Underground Railroad (to tie back to neo-slavery).

    Again, based upon the investment of your word count and my opening paragraph, we know that this movie is really just a Trojan horse for something insidious.

    Fake edit: Fabian Marta getting arrested for abducting a 14 year-old is textbook projection.

    • Dominic on April 8, 2024 at 11:24 am

      “This film starring a QAnon believer who plays a QAnon believer involving one of the central aspects of the QAnon conspiracy theory and being actively marketed to adherents of QAnon and Q-curious conservative folks aside”

      Ironically nonsensical ramblings.

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