Before I get into my review of Sound of Freedom, I will briefly touch on the fact that its release has been shrouded in understandable controversy. Overall, I am looking at Alejandro Monteverde‘s true story-inspired thriller as a film on its own accord, and not the QAnon/conservative power-endorsed creature it will ultimately be remembered as.
An ugly look into the world of child sex-trafficking – envisioned through the red state lens of the American right – Sound of Freedom, which was filmed back in 2018, wouldn’t be a box office phenomenon in any capacity if it wasn’t for its questionable approvals from the likes of Donald Trump, Mel Gibson, Elon Musk, and Ben Shapiro; there’s also the unwanted (and ironic) connection to a real-life child kidnapping case, with Fabian Marta, one of over 6000 individuals who invested $5m on behalf of the film’s marketing campaign, arrested several weeks into the film’s release.
Taking its reputation out of the equation, Sound of Freedom, when all is said and done, is a decidedly average, overtly melodramatic, emotionally manipulative drama that, admittedly, starts with an effective hook before dwindling into mediocrity. After the obligatory “Based on a true story” title card, the film lays its focus on Tim Ballard (Jim Caveizel, all stern looks and soft vocals), a former Homeland Security Officer who captained an anti-trafficking crusade. Seemingly restricted on his desire to rescue global victims of trafficking, Ballard quits his government job to follow such a calling, with Monteverde’s script (co-written with Rod Barr) focusing on two children in particular, Honduran siblings Miguel and Rocio, who are caught up in the ring that extends from the US to Colombia.
The opening sequence introduces us to Miguel and Rocio, and their father (José Zúñiga) believing that the modelling contract offered to them by Giselle (Yessica Borroto),a former Beauty Queen, is a legitimate exchange. This set-piece, which concludes with him returning to the “photo shoot” to find them abducted, sets an initial unnerving tone, and had the film opted to maintain this grit it may have been a more effective form of dramatisation. Eventually, as Ballard becomes more and more determined to save Miguel and Rocio specifically, he’s lured into a mass ring of traffickers, promising them more than 50 children (there’s a gross Epstein island mentality at play) as he plays along with the sting he’s setting up.
As much as Sound of Freedom is dealing with a serious subject – and even with all the controversy, it’s at least never making light of child sex trafficking – the overwrought dialogue and exaggerated acting is always there to remind viewers that this is still a specific view of such a subject. The dialogue, in particular, falls on manipulative wording as “God’s children are not for sale”, as Ballard’s own demons forced him to find a new calling in the Lord; a story relating to a meeting with a prostitute from years before, and her relaying she was 14 and not 25 as advertised, evidently the push needed to eradicate child sex traffickers.
With its religious connotations it’s easy to see why Sound of Freedom has found a specific, verbal audience, though the manner in which the Colombian raid as depicted in the film has been widely debunked as mass exaggeration, which only further fuels the film’s personality as one to serve Ballard’s own reputation. With all the background noise overbearing the film itself, it’s difficult to know if Sound of Freedom ever had such intentions when being made – Caveizel claimed that QAnon was not something he was aware of whilst filming – but, removed entirely from a conversation this writer is not interested (or confident) in having, this film is simply one that speaks on an important subject, but does so in a skewered view and underwhelming technical execution.
TWO STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Sound of Freedom is screening in Australian theatres from August 24th, 2023.