The emerging sleeper hit of the summer, Sound of Freedom has seemingly come out of nowhere and upended all expectations, collecting close to $100 million at the box office, as of this writing. The supposed “true story” of former Homeland Security agent-turned-vigilante Tim Ballard, the Jim Caviezel-starring thriller set in the cruel underbelly of child sex trafficking has been the subject of controversy and scrutiny. Whether it’s the investigation into Ballard’s potential illegal fundraising efforts and his ties to Right-Wing Quanon groups. Or even star Jim Caviezel’s statements fully supporting Quanon and spreading rampantly untrue conspiracy theories. Ironic, given the party of Donald Trump and Matt Gaetz, among many other sex fiends. Alas, the film at hand must speak on its own and although it isn’t some Quanon psy-op, nor is it some groundbreaking piece of cinema, it is instead a moderately-involving and sobering thriller in desperate need of tightening.
Tim Ballard (Jim Caviezel) is an agent for Homeland Security tasked with finding pedophiles with a previous arrest record of over 300 criminals. When investigating a local criminal searching the internet for potential victims, Tim is able to expand the scope of his operations, looking to take down a massive child sex trafficking ring in Colombia. In South America, he is aided by his main contact Vampiro (the great character actor Bill Camp), an American with a history of money laundering for the cartels. Together, they set up a sting operation that gets even bigger than they had originally imagined.
Instead of a bombastic, Rambo-style action fantasy, Sound of Freedom is a rather somber and narrowly-focused procedural thriller. Stylistically, director Alejandro Monteverde bites off the tone of early Denis Villeneuve, and Mel Gibson, too harshly, but the filmmaker, helmer of the 2006 drama Bella, does an effective job of laying a thick sense of urgency. Much of the first act is spend laying out the evil process of these child trafficking rings, with the opening in particular, putting you in the shoes of a parent who discovers his two children have been abducted. There’s a good deal of care in the films portrayal of its dark subject matter, rarely feeling exploitative and handled with grace, while still disturbing enough to get its point across. Monteverde employs some impressive camerawork and shot compositions, giving the film a sense of scope.
The director also coaxes strong performances out of his young stars, with child actors Cristel Aparicio and Lucas Avila giving moving, impressive work. Caviezel gives a deeply-committed performance, likely his finest on-screen turn since The Passion of the Christ. Once again, playing a stoic character with the weight of the world behind his eyes, the character of Tim Ballard is generically conceived, but Caviezel’s commanding presence allows the character to feel more dimensional than what’s in the script. Veteran character actor Bill Camp adds some credibility, and some needed levity, to the film. Chomping on a stogie in every scene, Camp is given a juicier role to sink his teeth into after many years of playing bit parts.
One of the film’s biggest weaknesses is its pacing, which is too languid and unrefined to maintain the urgency the film tries desperately to convey. The 130 minute runtime feels longer, and by the time the extended Heart of Darkness-inspired climax rolls around, much of the tension has dissipated. The script also has its fair share of eye-rolling dialogue. The made-for-the-trailer line “god’s children are not for sale” may as well be accompanied by a large “APPLAUSE” sign. We get several corny lines that are repeated numerous times, namely “never trust a pedophile” — gee, thanks. Oscar-winner Mira Sorvino is saddled with the most thankless “wife” role in recent years, appearing in half a dozen scenes and has maybe five lines of dialogue.
Sound of Freedom is largely a disposable genre thriller with strong performances and a sleek visual style from director Alejandro Monteverde, Setting aside its Right-Wing propaganda press cycle and exaggerated origins, this is a sturdily-made and moderately affecting film on its own merits.