Seeking out the

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Sound of Freedom

Directed by Alejandro Monteverde
Produced by Eduardo Verástegui
Written by Rod Barr and Alejandro Monteverde
With: Jim Caviezel, Bill Camp, Eduardo Verástegui, Javier Godino, Yessica Borroto Perryman, José Zúñiga, Gustavo Sánchez Parra, Kurt Fuller, and Mira Sorvino
Cinematography: Gorka Gómez Andreu
Editing: Brian Scofield
Music: Javier Navarrete
Runtime: 131 min
Release Date: 04 July 2023
Aspect Ratio: 2.39 : 1
Color: Color

This small-budget cime darama about sex trafficking really pulled in the church crowd, grossing an impresive $250 million in theaters. That's almost half of what The Passion of the Christ raked in, largely from a similar audience, twenty years ago. The film stars The Passion’s Christ himself, Jim Caviezel, QAnon's favorite movie star. Caviezel plays Tim Ballard, a former U.S. government agent who embarks on a mission to rescue innocent little children from evil sex traffickers in Colombia. The real-life Ballard is the founder of Operation Underground Railroad, an anti-sex trafficking organization that claims to have rescued many children caught up in the sex trade, though no actual verified rescues by the group have been documented. The many statistics bandied about in this movie seem equally dubious. 

The film was produced by Mexican right-wing activist, YouTuber, independent candidate in the Mexican presidential election, and telenovelas star Eduardo Verástegui, who also plays a lead role, and executive produced by Mel Gibson. Whatever you think of this movie's politics; as a thriller it possesses all the tension and suspense of a race between two elderly turtles. I suppose the heavy, oppressively somber nature of the proceedings is appropriate for the subject matter; but if this is a thriller, it's devoid of thrills, and if it's a crime drama, it lacks sufficient dramatic twists, turns, and character development. Caviezel's performance is so one-note he makes Steven Seagal look like Burt Lancaster!

The film picks up when Ballard meets up with a former drug cartel accountant named Vampiro, who now works to save children from sex trafficking. Played by venerable character actor Bill Camp (Compliance, Molly's Game, The Burial) Vampiro brings some much needed energy into this movie. The sting operation they stage, which involves creating an island paradise for pedophiles—a successful undertaking that apparently actually occurred—serves as the picture's centerpiece. It's the best part of the movie, though watching these guys plan everything out we have to wonder, doesn't the promise of lots of money for a gathering a large number of sex slaves actually add to the problem and cause more kids to be rounded up? It seems like this scheme saved more than 50 children, but Ballard ends up disappointed since he's on a mission to save one particular child who wasn't brought to the island.

The film loses what little potency it has in the third act climax, in which Ballard makes a final attempt to save the one little girl he believes will give his life's work meaning. This takes him deep into the domain of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia entrenched in the Amazon jungle. We're given a map and a few scenes explaining just how far into lawless, mysterious, and treacherous territory this adventure will take him, but the actual mission plays out like a guy sneaking into a warehouse guarded by ten or twelve drunk sentries.

The script, direction, and lead roles are simultaneously overwrought and underdeveloped (Mira Sorvino plays Ballard's wife in a role so negligible we wonder if she spent more than half a day on set). Camp is an exception, as are the child actors, who all give excellent performances. But the majority of the film rests on Caviezel's shoulders. His Ballard comes off as a virtuous, softspoken Rambo, but instead of refighting the Vietnam War so America can win, he's leading the charge against sex trafficking as people on the political Right envision it—a crime perpetuated by foreigners and gross perverts who delight in their sickening predilections. I'm sure there really are sex cartels like the ones depicted in this film, and there's nothing inherently wrong in making a righteous adventure movie about taking down such evil and disgusting men. But for decades, the greatest source of sex trafficking in America has been teenagers who run away from home, usually because they are rejected by (most often) religious families who disown their children because of sexuality, gender identity, or other personality traits that don't align with a narrow interpretation of religious doctrine. Sound of Freedom comes off as a movie designed for those who don't want to aknowledge the very real sources of this terrible crime eminating from their own backyards, churches, and communities, and would rather vicariously feel like action heroes saving hypothetical defenseless little children from evil foreign predators.

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Jim Caviezel, playing a valiant rescuer of child sex slaves in Alejandro Monteverde’s QAnon-adjacent crime drama, gives a performance so one-note he makes Steven Segal look like Burt Lancaster.