2023 | PG-13 | starring Jim Caviezel, Mira Sorvino, Bill Camp | directed by Alejandro Monteverde | 2h 11m |
Tim Ballard (Jim Caviezel) is a government agent working sting operations to bust pedophiles. Tired of the job’s dead ends and inability to rescue the children who get abducted, Ballard goes rogue, meeting up with a network of agents, who hatch a plan to break into a Columbian headquarters and free a group of children who have been abducted and put through the sex trafficking circuit.
In the 2008 blockbuster Taken Liam Neeson’s teenage daughter is kidnapped in Paris and sent into an underground world of sex traffiking which forces him to rampage around the world to find the pervert and free her. In 2023 I’m supposed to look at a movie about underage sex traffiking as either revolutionary and suspiciously conspiratorial. Sound of Freedom is the little Angel Studios movie that busted out of the Christian Movie circuit and into the mainstream. And with fairly good reason, it’s a tense topic with high stakes that the movie takes seriously. It has a basic understanding of movie production, visuals, structure and set-up and payoff. It’s not a joke like God’s Not Dead or Suing the Devil with Malcolm McDowell. It’s… not bad.
Caviezel plays the brooding protagonist in the slimy business of posing as a pedophile to entrap the pedophiles. The movie makes a smart move in the first scenes. Instead of leaving the concept a vague message, it hones in on the individual story of a brother and sister who are enticed away from their parents at the pursuit of a modeling photo shoot. When Ballard finally finds the boy, he’s so disoriented doesn’t know what month it is. The movie also isn’t a ra-ra action movie where Ballard kicks in doors and lays waste to perverts, though that probably would have gone over just as well. It’s more realistic, with Ballard’s team approaching the siege with quiet trepidation.
There is still a bit of a cheese factor here. For example, in one scene, instead of a quarter shot, Caviezel is framed, talking directly into the camera. A big no no. One of the film’s big plot points involves the financing of a “sex hotel” to lure out high society pedophiles, and that is unintentionally funny. Little amateur mistakes like that pop up now and again. But the biggest problem is that the film is just flat. It thinks it’s too much of an art film to deliver some Taken-style blood-lust satisfying pervert ass-kicking. It’s also too much of an essay on the topic to be truly suspenseful. And worst of all, it leaves Ballard’s character grossly under-developed.
As traditional as it is, the film’s release sparked competing conspiracy theories, both that people were paying for tickets, but not going and it was playing to empty theaters and that showings all had projector shut downs masterminded by the powers that be to keep people from learning the truth. Sound of Freedom‘s story is smartly individualized. It offers no conspiracy theory. Tim Ballard doesn’t get to the bottom of the ring and find the Illuminati. It presents the most real-world explanation: that sex traffiking is the work of low level criminals and opportunists making money, not that it’s run by powerful people all over the world who are being flown to a not-so-secret island – which it could have, because that’s also a thing. Reality in this case is stranger than fiction.
So Sound of Freedom is fine. It looks good. It’s well made, it’s not particularly complex or intense, but it gets the job done. It doesn’t beat you over the head with a message in the way your average Hollywood movie does. And speaking of being outside the Hollywood system, Mira Sorvino is in this movie. A welcome return for someone who was blacklisted by Hollywood for not sleeping with Harvey Weinstein. Never forget, the crowd that complains endlessly about 1950s McCarthyist-era blacklisting (Trumbo, Mank) regularly and institutionally blacklists actors. You might even say they conspire to do it.