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Review: Sound of Freedom (2023)

Sound of Freedom (2023)

Directed by: Alejandro Monteverde

Premise: Based on true events. United States Department of Homeland Security agent Tim Ballard (Jim Caviezel) rescues a boy from child sex trafficking. Ballard travels to Columbia in search of the boy’s sister and discovers a trafficking ring.

What Works: Sound of Freedom is a well-made law enforcement drama. The picture puts the audience alongside its protagonist as he investigates the underground market of trafficked children. The filmmakers want viewers to grasp the depravity and evil at work here and they succeed in doing that. The film is well shot with a grungy atmosphere. Sound of Freedom is frequently uncomfortable to watch but it’s not exploitative and the discomfort is appropriate to the subject matter. A sense of urgency permeates the film. The story is organized around Tim Ballard’s search for a particular girl. That storytelling choice gives Ballard and the film a concrete goal that creates a narrative shape. The film has a few exceptional performances among its supporting cast. Cristal Aparicio and Lucás Ávila are cast as the primary abducted children and they play this well. The trauma of their experience is evident in their performances in a way that is solemn and heartbreaking. Also impressive is Bill Camp as a former criminal who now helps rescue trafficked children. Camp gets a speech about sin and redemption that is the best dramatic moment in the film.

What Doesn’t: Sound of Freedom is intended as a rhetorical piece. The whole picture is designed to incite righteous indignation at the sexual exploitation of children and mobilize the audience against it. The filmmakers succeed but, as pointed out by some experts in this field, sex trafficking is a more complex problem than it is portrayed here. The “stranger danger” scenario depicted in Sound of Freedom, in which children are abducted by people unknown to them, is mostly the stuff of urban legends. Sound of Freedom is well intentioned but its depiction of sex trafficking does not really deal with the issue as it most commonly exists and the film may even obfuscate this issue by giving the public a false impression. As rhetoric, Sound of Freedom makes a misstep in its ending. The picture concludes with a closed resolution that appealingly bookends the story but also gives the impression that the matter is closed and all is now right with the world. The film’s political aims would have been better served with a more ambiguous conclusion. As a matter of drama, the weakest element of Sound of Freedom is the lead performance by Jim Caviezel. He has very little emotional range and his performance is flat and repetitive.

Bottom Line: Sound of Freedom merges rhetoric and drama to successful effect. As a portrait of the realities of child exploitation, the film is flawed but it does impact the viewer in an emotional and visceral way that is unsettling.

Episode: #958 (July 23, 2023)