August 3, 2023


Controversial “Sound of Freedom” Is An Adequate Indie Thriller

By: Justin Tucker

Sound of Freedom is one of the most controversial films of 2023. The action drama’s buzz and unconventional marketing strategy have helped propel its box office haul past $100 million, topping Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny on its opening day. The film is also an intriguing thriller, contributing to its success.

The film is based on the exploits of Tim Ballard, the founder of the anti-trafficking organization Operation Underground Railroad. It opens with the kidnapping of Honduran siblings Miguel (Lucás Ávila) and Roccio (Cristal Aparicio) under the ruse of a photoshoot and forced into prostitution. Ballard (a blonde Jim Caviezel) is a Homeland Security agent grieved by the horrors he sees while taking down child pornography rings. In a targeted investigation, he rescues Miguel, who implores Ballard to find his sister. With the reluctant blessing of his supervisor, Frost (Kurt Fuller), he travels to Colombia to search for Roccio.

He teams with Vampiro (Bill Camp), who has former ties to drug cartels. Like Ballard, Vampiro has made a mission of rescuing trafficked individuals. They go undercover with local authorities to set up a sting operation. Perhaps they will also rescue Roccio or come closer to finding her. Frost recalls Ballard back to the United States, but Ballard quits his post at Homeland Security instead. Ballard and Vampiro then plan for their most dangerous mission yet.

Part of the controversy surrounding Sound of Freedom comes from the film’s creative license disqualifying it from being a “gripping true story.” While artistic embellishments about real-life people are frequent in Hollywood, critics feel the true nature of sex trafficking is obfuscated by how the film portrays its hero and its heavy subject matter. The film has also been labeled as a QAnon conspiracy theory propaganda piece. This is because of Ballard’s associations with Donald Trump, the hero of the QAnon theory, and Caviezel’s claims of adrenochrome harvesting, an assertion repeated by many believers in the conspiracy.

The controversy did not distract this reviewer and I believe as a movie, Sound of Freedom is engaging entertainment. Caviezel and Camp both give satisfying performances and the script by Alejandro Gómez Monteverde and Rob Barr is formulaic, yet competent. The film could have been improved by trimming the running time by several minutes. It also under-utilizes the Oscar-winning Mira Sorvino (Mighty Aphrodite) as Ballard’s wife Katherine. We are told in closing intertitles that Katherine is a great influence on Tim’s mission, yet we do not see enough scenes between the couple to convey that adequately. If Sound of Freedom is a pernicious propaganda piece, it is a decently made propaganda piece.

 It took five years for the picture to make it to the local movie theaters. Finished in 2018, it was set to be released by 20th Century Fox. However, after The Walt Disney Company absorbed 20th Century Fox, it was shelved. Angel Studios, a Utah-based company best known for producing The Chosen television series based on the Gospels, acquired the distribution rights and released the film on Independence Day, marketing to churches and audiences of faith. The move by Angel Studios paid off and the film will now see international distribution.

Sound of Freedom is also the second bonafide hit this year by Angel Studios. His Only Son, a picture based on the Biblical story of Abraham, was made for $250,000 and went on to gross over $12 million. In an era where Hollywood is furiously pumping out comic book adaptations or retreads of established properties, audiences may be showing fatigue from such fare. The underwhelming performances of DC Studios’ The Flash and the aforementioned Indiana Jones sequel may be evidence of that. Sound of Freedom offers fresh, reliable action and may provoke Hollywood to better cater to Middle American audiences.