Directed by: Alejandro Monteverde
Written by: Alejandro Monteverde, Rod Barr
Starring: Jim Caviezel, Mira Sorvino, Bill Camp, Eduardo Verástegui, Javier Godino, José Zúñiga
Released: August 24, 2023
Grade: B-

Sound of Freedom

Framed as an action-thriller, Sound of Freedom is about a Homeland Security Investigations agent, played by Jim Caviezel (The Passion of the Christ), who risks his life and becomes an undercover operative in trying to free hundreds of children from sex traffickers in Colombia.  It’s a worthy subject matter with the narrative loosely based on the life of American Tim Ballard who spent 12 years working for the agency.  As is often the case, details have been embellished in places (e.g. the jungle finale never happened) to make it more cinematic.

Whether you like the film or not, Sound of Freedom has become one of the most successful and talked about movies of 2023.  It’s a rare instance where the chatter surrounding the film, as opposed to the content itself, has fuelled that success.  It has grossed $175 million USD thus far in the United States which, remarkably, is more than the take for the latest Indiana Jones, Mission: Impossible, and Transformers flicks.  It’s a staggering total for a film which cost just $14 million and required the support of over 6,000 investors via a crowdfunding campaign to reach completion.

It’s hard to watch this film in isolation of the growing controversy of the past month.  There’s a lot to consider and digest.  Angel Studios created a “Pay it Forward” initiative and thus far, over 15 million people have purchased a ticket “for someone who would not otherwise be able to see the film.”  However, photos have been shared on social media showing “sold out” screenings with lots of empty seats.  The huge box-office may be technically correct… but what portion of tickets sold were used?  Opinions vary depending on who you speak with.

Another sticking point has been the film’s depiction of child trafficking.  What we see here is simple – a stranger abducts a bunch of children attending a fake acting audition.  Experts argue most cases are more nuanced and involve psychological manipulation and people the children already know.  Angel Studios has since acknowledged this on their website stating the writers took “creative liberties” and the kidnappings seen in the movie “do not represent the majority.”  It asks the question – should you look at Sound of Freedom as an eye-opening exploration of a very serious topic… or is it just an unrealistic, over-the-top Taken-style action piece?

The most startling detail has been the interest from the far-right political movement known as QAnon.  They have been promoting the film heavily on message boards (more dollars for the box-office) and, while not covered in the film, they are drawing a connection with a belief that left-leaning Hollywood liberals participate in child sex trafficking rings to harvest blood.  Director Alejandro Monteverde has staunchly distanced himself from such interpretations but, with the likes of Donald Trump, Elon Musk and Mel Gibson promoting the film publicly, Monteverde’s views are of little interest to conspiracy theorists.

Almost two months after its U.S. release, Australian audiences can now see what the fuss is about and form their own views.  In critiquing Sound of Freedom purely on its artistic merit, I’ll describe it as a ho-hum thriller with average dialogue, an unsophisticated narrative, weak supporting characters (Mira Sorvino???), and some half-decent action pieces.  The film will be remembered… but perhaps not for the reasons the producers had hoped... unless that was always their intention.