The 4th of July may usually be a time for hotdogs, hamburgers, and fireworks, but this year many people in America chose to celebrate their Independence Day differently. Angel Studios’ Sound of Freedom celebrates liberty by remembering the millions of enslaved children around the world whose liberty has been stolen from them.
Inspired by the life of human trafficking activist Timothy Ballard, the film’s depiction of worldwide pedophilia is a chilling and emotional ride. Ballard’s pursuit of one missing little girl into the darkest underbelly of the criminal world is told with a beautiful yet gritty realism. And with increasing reports of people trying to normalize pedophilia in our culture, the story’s message could not be more timely.
Even though Sound of Freedom was just released, it has already had its share of drama. The project was actually filmed in 2018, but was reportedly shelved by Disney when the company acquired 20th Century Fox. But with an impressive $10 million pre-sale during an otherwise lackluster box office summer, Sound of Freedom shows no signs of stopping. Just don’t make my mistake: Bring a box of tissues with you.
Sound of Freedom Shows the Ugliness of Pedophilia without Making Us Experience It
In the film’s first five minutes, Rocío (Cristal Aparicio) and her younger brother Miguel (Lucás Ávila) have been marketed for sale under the guise of modeling auditions and have disappeared without a trace. The reality of the children’s new lives plays in flashbacks throughout the film as Tim Ballard (Jim Caviezel) learns the horrors they have experienced. But though Sound of Freedom is dealing with the darkest forms of abuse, it portrays these abuses with an admirable restraint. It suggests the horrors of pedophilia without actually depicting them, keeping the film’s rating to PG-13 (mild, considering it’s taking on the sex trade).
Instead, the film captures the darkness of the world that Ballard investigates by showing us the toll it takes on Ballard and his associates. Early in the film, after reviewing the pedophilic material they have confiscated, another Homeland Security officer tells Ballard that he doesn’t think he can keep doing the job. Ballard reminds him that they’ve put more than 200 perpetrators behind bars, but it’s clear from Ballard’s sunken eyes that he is haunted by the children who remain in slavery.
This method of storytelling handles a vile subject with sleight-of-hand that makes the subject just bearable. Instead of showing us the graphic videos that Ballard must log into his reports, the camera zooms in on his troubled eyes as he writes clinically accurate descriptions of them. After returning home from catching a pedophile, he sits in silent pain, surrounded by his blissfully unaware children. The weight of the darkness Ballard fights every day at work is painted in shadows by the film’s dark cinematography. Ballard frequently sits in a darkened profile, emphasizing his inner struggle to choose the right thing in a dark world.
Jim Caviezel Sacrificed To Accept the Starring Role
Jim Caviezel, who was specifically requested for the role by the real life Ballard himself, emotionally anchors the film in a captivating performance that is among the best of his career. Playing the role was more than just another acting job to Caviezel, who is best known for playing Jesus of Nazareth in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ (2004). Caviezel has explained his passion for Sound of Freedom by speaking about his own children, who are adopted from China: “I was well aware…of the problems and dangers that children face globally.”
Taking a stand on human trafficking was important to Caviezel, who lost his agents and his lawyer over his decision to take the role. Despite all the voices telling him no, Caviezel couldn’t blind himself to the growing problem of child sex trafficking. “The United States is the biggest buyer of trafficking pedophilia in the world, and Mexico being the biggest producer of it, with over 300,000 children being taken into the United States under the age of 18,” he is quoted as saying, “It looks like a good fight to pick.”
The film has a fine supporting cast who bring the terror of the secret sex trade to life with vivid and sensitive performances. Except for a sadly under-used Mira Sorvino in the role of Ballard’s wife Katherine, the film gives its actors space to show the difficulty of making the right choices when combating great evil.
Bill Camp’s ex-cartel trafficking activist Vampiro is one of the film’s most nuanced and moving supporting characters. Midway through the film, Vampiro explains his change of heart to Ballard by telling the story of his last encounter with a street prostitute, who turned out to be a teenage girl. Camp perfectly captures the guilt and self-disgust which has driven the ex-convict to a different kind of dangerous life – a life spent fighting for the freedom of innocent children.
The True Story behind the Film
Jim Caviezel, the film’s star, has compared the Sound of Freedom’s plot to 2008’s thriller Taken, in which an ex-CIA father hunts down his daughter’s kidnappers. What makes Sound of Freedom even more compelling, though, is that it’s inspired by real events and people.
The real Tim Ballard followed a similar path to that depicted in the film. “I worked for 12 years as an agent and undercover operator for the Department of Homeland Security,” Ballard relayed in an interview with psychologist Jordan Peterson. “10 of those years were spent on the border tracking child traffickers, people who would exploit children with child exploitation material.” But in 2012, after diving deep into two cases outside the United States, Ballard was told to come home.
Ballard credits the courage to leave his job to his wife Katherine, with whom he discussed the fate of the trafficked children if he left the operation in Latin America before it was complete. “I was hoping my wife might have responded, ‘Get your a** home, you can’t abandon us’...She didn’t say that. She said to me, ‘You have to quit your job.’ It was that easy for her…She felt a calling and responsibility that she might have to reckon with one day when she meets her Maker.”
Ballard would go on to found the Operation Underground Railroad (O.U.R.), a nonprofit organization dedicated to rescuing children from sex trafficking. O.U.R. has conducted operations across the globe, and partnered with celebrities like Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin to shine a light on the conditions around the world that enable child trafficking.
The pedophilic orgies to which Sound of Freedom alludes bear eerie similarities to the increasingly lurid behavior of Ghislaine Maxwell, Jeffrey Epstein, and their associates. Yet the emotional power of Sound of Freedom doesn’t lie in sharing all of the disturbing facts and figures – it gives those facts a face in the story of one missing little girl and the team who endures hell to find her.
What Can You Do to Help?
When I walked out of Sound of Freedom, I was overcome by the need to do something about the horrors it depicts. So when you do see the film, here are just a few steps you can take to help take a stand against the child sex trade.
1. Pay attention to your surroundings.
During the opening credits, we see video footage of real child abductions that happen on the street, in restaurants – ordinary average settings. It was terrifying to see how much of the secret sex trade isn’t really happening in secret at all. One of the most important things you can do is just pay attention to what’s happening with kids in your proximity. Familiarize yourself with the signs of human trafficking so you can intervene if something strange is going on near you.
2. Go see Sound of Freedom with everyone you know.
Share trailers and information about Sound of Freedom on your social media. Invite your neighbors and friends to go with you. Buy popcorn and candy at the theater to encourage a long theatrical run.
3. Support the celebrities who take a stand on the child sex trade.
As Jim Caviezel says in a special message during Sound of Freedom’s end credits, it’s easy to feel hopeless. But Caviezel isn’t alone in taking a stand on pedophilia. A variety of celebrities, including Blake Lively and Ashton Kutcher, have taken a vocal stand on the child sex trade. It’s not easy for celebrities who live in the spotlight to take a stand on something controversial – we’ve seen what happened to Caviezel for taking his stand. But there’s strength in numbers, and the people who take a public stand need a strong community of support.
4. Fight with your credit card.
The power of your dollar doesn’t solve every problem, but it goes a lot further than you think. Find companies that fight against modern slavery or that support trafficked victims and support them with your business. Find out the companies that are soft on child pornography and don’t support them.
Sound of Freedom is the sober call to action our generation needs to take action over human trafficking and pedophilia around the world. It’s not just an exposé of the child sex trade though – Sound of Freedom is a beautifully made film that takes both its craft and message seriously.
Rating: 5 out of 5
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