Last weekend while scrolling through the wasteland that is my Twitter feed, I stumbled upon a post that got my immediate attention.
This tweet, from one of the various film-obsessed anonymous accounts I follow, mentioned a “QAnon movie” recently released in theaters nationwide. The QAnon movement, for those who aren’t familiar, is associated with hardcore supporters of Donald Trump, who believe cryptic messages, from an anonymous source named “Q,” reveal how a global cabal of elite satanic cannibalistic pedophiles worked to undermine the former president and controls the world.
The film’s QAnon-linked status derived from its narrative: an allegedly true story of the rescue of sex-trafficked children and the capture of their villainous captors. My eyes immediately opened wide after reading the phrase “QAnon movie,” and my head began to race with how this movie might look: ultra-low budget, no-name actors, terrible dialogue, horrible production, a wonky script about how the “elites” traffic children to satisfy their depraved pedophilic desires, etc.
Soon after, I came across a Rolling Stone review condemning the film as a “superhero movie for dads with brainworms.” Rather than aiming solely at the film’s merits, the reviewer instead spent a hefty portion of the text taking cheap shots at the “mostly white-haired audience” for the crime of being intrigued by an action drama.
Other outlets also took note. The Washington Post’s headline on the film read, “‘Sound of Freedom’ is a box office hit whose star embraces QAnon,” in reference to lead actor Jim Caviezel’s previous appearances at QAnon-linked conferences. Across the pond, The Guardian called the film a “QAnon-adjacent thriller seducing America.”
However, when looking more into this “QAnon movie,” I learned it had an impressive cast of talent beyond Jim Caviezel, with notable names Bill Camp and Mira Sorvino. Furthermore, reviews from mainstream critics were so far positive, something I would not expect from a film allegedly derived from the QAnon conspiracy lore. The film also boasted a modest budget of nearly $15 million — a hefty amount if it were centered on fringe, objectively insane beliefs.
But, the film’s box office numbers truly caught my eye. Despite being released over the long July 4 weekend against Harrison Ford’s swan song in Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, it pulled in an impressive nearly $20 million opening — not bad for a film released by Angel Studios, a Christian independent distributor. Undoubtedly, the film’s strong word-of-mouth-based marketing campaign contributed heavily to this number.
After learning these nuggets of info, I knew I absolutely had to see this film. The movie in question: Sound of Freedom.
So, at my local, overpriced theater in Chapel Hill, I booked a ticket for the Monday night screening, not exactly knowing what I was getting into.
But, when entering the theater, I did not come across the Baby Boomer symposium that Rolling Stone got my hopes up for. No, instead, the crowd was diverse in age, gender, and race — everyone from young couples to whole families.
The theater was nearly three-fourths full, no small feat for a movie on a Monday evening — not exactly a popular movie-going day of the week. Not everyone here could be a Q-obsessed crazy.
When the lights dimmed and the seemingly never ending stream of previews were out of the way, the film before me was not a conspiracy-laden piece of propaganda intended to brainwash me into the QAnon cult, but a competently made action thriller whose over two hour run time is worth every second.
In Sound of Freedom, director Alejandro Monteverde, a name I have not been previously familiar with, smartly weaves the “based on a true story” tale of Tim Balland (Jim Caviezel), a DHS agent committed to catching child pornography peddlers, often at his own physical and mental risk.
Realizing that catching pedophiles is worth very little compared to saving their young victims, Ballard successfully saves a young Honduran boy previously kidnapped in the film’s opening scene and reunites him with his father. As the two part ways, Ballard promises to rescue the boy’s sister, who sex traffickers also stole away.
Committed to his promise, Ballard travels to Colombia to expose a sex-trafficking ring with the cooperation of law enforcement officials and colorful underground figures.
By no stretch is the film an easy watch. It deals with an incredibly sensitive subject that any viewer with a hint of empathy or taste will find deeply disturbing. The subject matter proved too much for some reviewers, with the Rolling Stone review accusing Sound of Freedom of “fetishizing the torture of its child victims and lingering over the lush preludes to their sexual abuse.”
Yet, the film’s unflinching look at how child sex traffickers operate works in the film’s favor, giving a believable, horrific, and never over-the-top depiction of the practice.
Sound of Freedom’s antagonists are unmistakably immoral figures, driven by greed, perversion, and a deficit of morality. The script, co-written by Monteverde, never portrays them as cartoon villains, but as real people who could blend into a crowd and not force a second glance.
Monteverde’s influences are clear from the get-go. While based on true events, the film takes dramaturgical liberty, as nearly every biographical film does, in telling Ballard’s story. Evident in the film’s direction and script are hints of Apocalypse Now as Ballard descends down a river into the heart of darkness during the film’s exciting finale. Moody film noir visuals also make their way to the screen.
Characterwise, Bill Camp’s portrayal of Vampiro, a former drug-cartel associate who works underground to save sex-trafficked children, is the film’s standout. Acting as the film’s comic relief and Ballard’s guide into the world of Colombian sex trafficking, Camp’s rugged, street-smart character works surprisingly well, given the film’s downbeat tone.
Despite being released by Utah-based Angel Studios, the creators of Jesus Christ biopic series The Chosen, the film treads lightly on the religion and heavy on the drama. While the film makes allusions to the filmmaker’s faith as Caviezel’s character proudly states “God’s children are not for sale,” Sound of Freedom does not hit its viewers over the head with a religious message — as many explicitly Christian films do. Instead, the message is purely one of morality.
Sound of Freedom does not come without its flaws. Oscar winner Mira Sorvino, who portrays Ballard’s wife, is sadly unheard throughout the majority of the feature, only occasionally peeking her head in to offer Caviezel’s character words of encouragement. The film’s narrative suffers from her lack of involvement, and when she appears, her character has no discernible purpose, confusing the viewer in the process.
Furthermore, the film’s production design is adequate — neither outstanding nor cheap — but does not differentiate itself from the latest original offerings from Netflix and other mid-budget films of the genre.
Yet, in some of the more hysterical negative reviews of the movie, a deep discussion of what makes Sound of Freedom good, bad, or “meh” is lost to paranoid ramblings about a cadre of old folks getting sucked into weirdo far-right conspiracy theories.
Don’t be mistaken, Jim Caviezel’s kooky statements on elites draining children of their blood in the past few years is fair game for criticism and ridicule. And so are the crazy views of other actors and filmmakers, be it Oliver Stone, Sean Penn, and obviously Tom Cruise.
But, on face value, Sound of Freedom does not indulge in Caviezel’s beliefs. In fact, the film was produced in 2018, well before Caviezel fell down the rabbit hole and embraced bizarre claims.
It’s a shame that deciding whether a movie — especially one that does not indulge in politics — is good or not is now so often subjected to partisan tribalism.
When audiences view Sound of Freedom, they will not see a film trying to drag them into a world of conspiracy but a decent action thriller that at least shines a spotlight on an under-reported, very real, and ultra-uncomfortable issue.