Reviewed by: Jim O'Neill
|Better than Average
|• Young-Adults • Adults
|Action Biography Drama
|2 hr. 15 min.
|Year of Release:
November 12, 2022 (festival)
July 4, 2023 (wide release)
DVD: November 14, 2023
Fighting the horrible sin of sex trafficking children and the evil people behind it—practicing one of the very worst kinds of evil
Modern child slavery
Rescuing the helpless
Courage, bravery, self-sacrifice
About the fall of mankind to worldwide depravity
What is SIN AND WICKEDNESS? Is it just “bad people” that are sinners, or are YOU a sinner? Answer
What is the JUSTICE OF GOD?
What is THE FINAL JUDGMENT OF GOD? Answer
James Caviezelhellip; Tim Ballard
Mira Sorvino … Katherine Ballard
Bill Camp … Vampiro
Kurt Fuller … Frost
José Zúñiga (Jose Zuniga) … Roberto
Gustavo Sánchez Parra … El Calacas
Yessica Borroto Perryman (Yessica Borroto) … Katy-Gisselle
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Santa Fe Films
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|Angel Studios, Inc.
See eye-opening video interview below with director Monteverde and lead actor Caviezel
Alejandro Monteverde’s prior films, “Bella” (2006) and “Little Boy” (2015) were admirable efforts. He made salient points about issues that no Hollywood filmmaker wants to touch, but the stories he molded around those themes could have used more structure and less sentiment; more meat, less cheese.
Monteverde’s new film, “Sound of Freedom,” is well scripted, well paced, and superbly acted. James Caviezels unsurprisingly masterful as Tim Ballard, the US Homeland Security agent who goes rogue in order to rescue children from sex traffickers, but Caviezel is equaled, and sometimes outshone, by a strong cast of supporting actors, especially José Zúñiga as a helpless father who has his children stolen from him, and Gustavo Sánchez Parra and Yessica Borroto Perryman as kidnappers and child suppliers. The latter two disappear into their roles as evil incarnations, yet they endow their characters with enough sweetness to make them endearing, and, therefore, all the more menacing.
Bill Camp gives the film’s best performance as Batman (Vampiro), a former money launderer for the Colombian cartels, who has repented for his past sins and now works undercover to help free children from slavery. Dressed in Hawaiian shirts and constantly swilling whiskey and chomping a cigar, he is reminiscent of the boozy and world-weary loner whose corrupt talents turn him from a suspicious outsider into a consummate insider, a worthy heir to Ernie Kovacs’ Captain Segura in “Our Man in Havana” or Sydney Greenstreet’s Signor Ferrari in “Casablanca.” But Batman’s journey is not a cynical one. His is a conversion story, a moving one which Camp recounts in a soliloquy that is unsparing and fearless. That speech, done in daring close-up, is the film’s most searing sequence.
The story opens with Roberto (Zúñiga), a father of an 11 year old girl and a 7 year old boy, bringing both of his children to what appears to be an audition in an apartment building on a quiet Mexican street. The talent scout (Perryman) is beautiful and appears trustworthy. She has a number of other child contestants under her care, and is so reassuring that Roberto leaves his children with her. When he returns to pick them up, the apartment is empty and the children are gone.
The film follows the boy and girl’s journey into a hellish world, avoiding visually graphic details, but not shying away from the emotional toll and the physical scars of child sex abuse.
Ballard, meanwhile, stays committed to his job hunting and capturing pedophiles, pathetic men who consume and trade child pornography on the internet. His success in making arrests does not satisfy him because he realizes that, although he is bringing perpetrators to justice, he is not rescuing the victimized children. By developing a relationship with a jailed pedophile, Ballard is able to establish a link to a child trafficking chain which allows him to pursue a number of stolen children, including Roberto’s.
Ballard’s commitment to his mission to stop what he has discovered to be the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world is intense, almost self-sacrificial, because, as he himself says, “God’s children are not for sale.”
The rest of the film plays out like an adventure tale taking the protagonists on trips to the US-Mexico border, to the cities and jungles of Colombia, and even to a private island (real-estate that pedophiles seem to find particularly advantageous to their pursuits).
Ballard is forced to abandon his position with Homeland Security, along with his pension, because the department’s bureaucracy will not cover the expense or the political liability of such a trip. He and his small team go it alone, posing as doctors who are bringing vaccines to the rural populace of the Colombian jungles.
What they find there is a modern day slave colony where adults and children harvest coca leaves and, using their bare feet, crush the leaves to cocaine paste. They toil under the iron hand, and rifle, of a demonic drug lord. It is a “Heart of Darkness” journey, but one in which chastened hearts overcome dark ones.
The plot may seem formulaic at times, and a lot of it seems to lie far outside the realm of “a true story,” but this is a dramatic film, an,d as such, it succeeds on almost all counts. The suspense is tight, at times achingly so, thanks to adept cinematography and seamless editing. There are some impressive linkings of real security camera footage of child seizures on residential streets and newsreel footage of cops raiding pedophile islands that add both excitement and verisimilitude to the scenes.
For filmmakers having to operate on a low budget and to pay for their own distribution, they have produced a worthy product that stands up to any of this year’s action films, most of which are more artifice than adventure. Despite their massive budgets and skillful effects teams, the “Transformers” and “Indiana Jones” franchises ended as leaden embarrassments. Monteverdi and his team, on the other hand, get maximum results with minimal resources.
“Sound of Freedom” has strong Christian themes, ones that direct us toward our human anthropology, what we were made to be. And to do. One of the characters, in response to being asked why he would take on such a difficult mission, responds: “Because when God asks you to do something, you do not say no.”
Okay, there are times when the script may take it a bit to far with the “little ones and the millstone” analogies (see Matthew 18:6), but Caviezel makes the best of his Bible-quoted lines; those blue eyes burn when he speaks the words from Luke’s gospel. He emphasizes dialog only when he has to, revealing that rare quality that effectively blends softly spoken words and silences with moments of fiery intensity. Most actors do not get that right. Paul Scofield could do it; these days, Gary Oldman is one of few who gets it right. James Caviezeloes too.
Monteverdi, his co-screenwriter, Rod Barr, the production team and the cast of “Sound of Freedom” deserve respect and esteem for releasing a good action film that is not afraid to emphasize its Christian roots. Most Hollywood films that take inspiration from a faith-based story wind up scrapping the Christian angle in the development phase, and, in the end, they lose something. Nonetheless, there is hope on the horizon. The recent farcical film, “Renfield,” by inspired comic director Chris McKay (“The Lego Batman Movie’), seems to cry out for a savior, and for a God that will take the place of all the false gods we surround ourselves with.
In the meantime, Monteverdi’s latest film is a cause for joy, not only because it reminds us of where we have come from but where we should be going. Adventure stories, in addition to being good entertainment, can be spiritual journeys too, for both the filmmaker and the filmgoer.
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.