Sound Of Freedom, the first independent movie since the pandemic to make more than $100 million at the US box office, did not reach that milestone without controversy. Based (somewhat loosely) on real-life efforts by former Homeland Security agent Tim Ballard to rescue children from sex traffickers in South America, the film has been embraced by QAnon conspiracy theorists and Donald Trump has hosted a screening at one of his golf courses. For some of its supporters (and detractors), Sound Of Freedom isn’t just a movie — it’s yet another front in the culture war.
Strip away that noise, however, and what you’re left with is a suspenseful, if conventional, thriller about a man willing to do anything to reunite a family. Jim Caviezel plays Ballard with steely intensity, and director Alejandro Monteverde’s gaze often lingers on his big blue eyes, which convey both sorrow at the “messed-up world” he finds himself confronting and a single-minded determination to complete his mission, whatever the cost.
Its impact is undercut by a nakedly manipulative mid-credits scene.
We first meet Ballard in California, where he tricks a child pornographer into giving up a trafficker on the US-Mexico border and frees a young boy named Miguel (Lucás Ávila). When Ballard learns that Miguel’s sister Rocío (Cristal Aparicio) is still missing, he travels to Cartagena to track her down. After teaming up with a cigar-chomping former cartel accountant named Vampiro (Bill Camp, turning in the film’s most enjoyable performance), he plans an audacious sting operation on a Colombian island and eventually goes undercover as a doctor to track Rocío deep into a rebel-held region of the jungle.
Arguably the film’s most dramatic moment is its epilogue, which includes grainy black-and-white footage of Ballard’s actual island sting, but its impact is undercut by a nakedly manipulative mid-credits scene in which Caviezel addresses the camera and claims the best way to end child slavery is to buy as many tickets for Sound Of Freedom as possible. Clearly this unusual marketing tactic has been successful, but it detracts from this taut drama and its serious message.