There’s something rotten at the core of our civilization, a rottenness that has hidden like an undetected cancer under the surface of society for far too long. I speak of the systematic abuse of children on a massive scale through child sex trafficking. The film Sound of Freedom, directed by Alejandro Monteverde and starring Jim Caviezel, seeks to raise awareness about this problem of apocalyptic proportions—while also telling a thrilling and beautiful story that stands on its own merits.
Caviezel plays the real-life Tim Ballard, a government agent who works to hunt down and bring in pedophiles. After the opening, in which Honduran father Roberto (José Zúñiga) loses his two children to trafficker and former beauty queen Gisselle (Yessica Borroto Perryman), we cut to Ballard capturing a consumer of internet child porn.
In the first of many undercover operations that give the film a thick layer of thrill and intrigue, Ballard convinces his captive that he’s “one of them” and that he wants to arrange a meeting with a child. The not-too-bright pedophile incriminates himself (and is arrested) when he connects Ballard to a trafficker at the border and the little boy the trafficker has with him. Ballard rescues the 7-year-old boy, Miguel, who then implores Ballard to find his 11-year-old sister, Rocío. These are the two children who went missing in the opening of the film.
Ballard gets permission to go to Colombia to follow a lead as to the girl’s whereabouts. He teams up with the grizzled, Hawaiian-shirt-wearing, cigar-smoking Vampiro (flawlessly portrayed by Bill Camp), a former cartel man whose rough, nonchalant exterior belies the fact that he’s dedicated his life to saving victims of trafficking.
With the help of local police, the two men begin their operation, only for Ballard to be called off the case by his DHS superiors. Here, Ballard makes the critical decision to quit his government job (pension and all) and go independent in order to save Rocío. It’s clear that Ballard has been tormented by the work of hunting down the perverts without being able to save their victims—now he has his chance to change that.
From here, Ballard and his allies engage in a breathtaking sting operation against a group of major traffickers, followed by an even higher-stakes expedition deep into rebel-controlled jungles where Ballard must try to outsmart a warlord who has bought Rocío.
From the haunting opening sequence to the final fade, you can’t look away. The film keeps you spellbound with a raw mixture of horror and hope, sympathy and suspense. Sound of Freedom doesn’t merely express a powerful and heartbreaking message; it is a quality film in its own right.
With artistic, tinted cinematography, solid editing, and a few moments of exquisite soundtrack, the technique is there. This looks, sounds, and feels as good as any big budget blockbuster—perhaps better. It also packs the action, suspense, intrigue, and grit of a true thriller. In terms of its excellent balance of substance and excitement and action that feels real (not stylized or CGI’d to death for the big screen), Sound of Freedom reminds me of the original Bourne trilogy and Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. It is easily among the most powerful films I’ve seen in years.
But maybe the film’s greatest strength is its careful handling of such difficult material and its ability to inspire. The movie doesn’t shy away from the darkness and difficulty of the subject matter.
Make no mistake: This is not an easy film to watch, even though no explicit abuse is shown on camera. We come close enough to it to see the reality in all its bare and brazen horror. We feel the pain of these children. We see the nightmare of their lives. Yet, at the same time, the film does not wallow in the muck, and it is far from despairing. It keeps hope and beauty and heroism alive. As is so often the case, the moments that really make your eyes sting are the little (and not so little) glimpses of victory, self-sacrifice, kindness, hope.
In addition to this perfect blending of darkness and light, no film in my memory has spurred such a desire to take action. Sound of Freedom does this without being preachy, though it does have Christian undertones. After seeing the film, my brother-in-law and I talked for a long time about how we can help to solve this problem of sex trafficking. Writing this review is my first, tiny contribution.
Of course, no film is perfect. There are a few moments of unrealistic dialogue when the film loses some subtlety or feels a bit more like a documentary than a movie. But I think we can forgive the filmmakers for this since the information they share is so important—information like the fact that sex trafficking is the second most profitable criminal activity in the U.S., only surpassed by the drug trade, or the fact that there are more people enslaved today than there were when slavery was legal. The only other criticisms I’d make involve a few odd soundtrack pieces and a few moments where the plot becomes hard to follow.
Those, I think, are fair (though minor) criticisms. But Sound of Freedom has faced plenty of unfair criticisms, too. Rolling Stone wrote an undisguised hit piece. One wonders what could possibly motivate the unhinged attack that resorted to mockery of the film, complaining about other theatergoers coughing, and the use of fear-inciting comments like, “At times I had the uncomfortable sense that I might be arrested myself just for sitting through it.”
Sound of Freedom has come under fire from the likes of RS as being a right-wing conspiracy film with thematic elements that align it with the QAnon conspiracy theory. Such accusations look to me like a mere smoke screen to ignore the real point of the movie. Conspiracy theories aside (and no, there’s nothing about QAnon or pizzagate in the movie), no one can deny the reality of human trafficking and the abuse of children. According to UNICEF, human trafficking is the second most profitable illegal trade. This is no conspiracy theory, and you don’t have to be conservative to appreciate the power, poignancy, and importance of this movie as it shines a light on a darkness that can’t be ignored, even though most of society generally does.
If you have the chance and you think you can stomach it, go see this movie, and not only because it’s an exciting ride. We cannot have a healthy and truly prosperous culture as long as such depravity goes unnoticed and unaddressed. It’s time for an army to rise up and put an end to this foulness for good. I hope Sound of Freedom can animate a global movement that will uproot this evil tree and its evil fruit once and for all. I hope Sound of Freedom can be the spark that sets ablaze a righteous anger in Americans’ hearts.
Heaven help us if it doesn’t.
Image credit: YouTube
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly spelled “Colombia.”6 comments