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I saw Sound of Freedom on the 4th of July, grabbing the last seat for the first showing. I knew that it was based on a true story of Tim Ballard (played by Jim Caviezel) and the start of ourrescue.org. The mission of Operation Underground Railroad (OUR) is “We exist to rescue children from sex trafficking and sexual exploitation.”
As a former intelligence officer who worked issues throughout the Western Hemisphere, and now as a mystery author writing about drug smuggling and human trafficking in the Detective Emilia Cruz mystery series, I went into the theater with certain expectations.
And was surprised.
This is a stylish movie
Sound of Freedom is a stylish, visually arresting movie.
We’re treated to sweeping aerial shots of remote Colombian terrain and lights winking against the nighttime view of hilly Tegucigalpa, Honduras. The tight, crowded streets of Central America. A white SUV navigating a twisting mountain road until it disappears into the jungle.
Or the fight scene cutting between blackout and the young trafficking victim’s face as she watches.
Or when a small boy’s captor offers food, but only if the boy obeys. Or the confession of criminal-turned-helper Vampiro (Bill Camp) who used a prostitute, then found out she was 14 years old and a “working girl” since age 6.
Or the way we see a child routed from Honduras to Columbia to the United States, there to be sold to the next pedophile.
The audience reaction
Not only was the theater packed, but the anticipation was palpable. No cell phone conversations as we waited for the movie to start, no loud chattering.
Right from the start, I heard gasps, especially when genuine surveillance video spooled across the screen in the grainy black and white that reminded me of my days as an intelligence officer running a surveillance platform. Each short clip showed a child being snatched, many forcibly, others surreptitiously.
I can’t tell you how much grainy surveillance footage I’ve seen like that.
Big applause filled the theater at the end, and again after the special message from actor Jim Caviezel.
Perhaps the strong audience enthusiasm reflects the $10 million in presales before the 4th of July opening. https://deadline.com/2023/07/jim-caviezel-box-office-sound-of-freedom-angel-studios-1235428099/
My guy didn’t have enough screen time
My expectation was that Mexican heartthrob Eduardo Verástegui would play the Colombian cop who helps Tim Ballard (Caviezel) take down the traffickers. Instead, Verástegui plays Pablo Delgado, a wealthy property owner whom Ballard knows from his Homeland Security days and convinces to bankroll Ballard’s first big sting operation.
BTW, Verástegui is also the producer of the film.
Why am I so fixated on Eduardo Verástegui? Because if anyone ever makes a film of The Hidden Light of Mexico City, he is my choice to play Eduardo Cortez Castillo, the corruption-hunting ex-cop who discovers a plot to buy the Mexican presidency with cartel money made via child trafficking.
Also, he liked my reel on Instagram.
Bilingual role model
Sound of Freedom is a lesson in how to make a bilingual movie with international appeal. The film uses both Spanish and English, with subtitles, but so deftly that it enhances rather than detracts from the action. After a fantastic first week in US theaters, no doubt it will do as well globally.
It’s a mark of excellence when Variety’s Owen Glieberman reviews it as a thriller and never refers to the bilingual element, saying “When the deliverance we’ve been seeking arrives, it feels earned . . . We’ve seen something about our world that makes the desire to “take action” seem more than an action-movie gesture.”
Director and co-writer Alejandro Monteverde deserves credit. Yes, I’m hoping his next project is the movie version of The Hidden Light of Mexico City and that it follows the same bilingual trajectory.
If you know him, please send him my way.
The big question
Will this lesson in good bilingual filmmaking be lost in the churn about the faith behind the movie?
Sound of Freedom is a major hit for Angel Studios, best known for the biblical series The Chosen. Caviezel has spoken openly about his Christian faith and of course played Jesus in Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ. Verástegui is fervently Catholic, routinely praying the Rosary in Spanish live on Facebook and Instagram, and a rising political star who has been urged to run for president of Mexico. Monteverde admitted to the Christian Post that Sound of Freedom was a project he felt “called to do” by God.
And then there’s that line of dialogue about “God’s children” that has some media pundit heads spinning. Hollywood generally shrinks from Christian themes.
Speaking of Hollywood, Sound of Freedom was originally a 21st Century Fox project. Disney shelved the movie when it acquired 21st Century Fox in 2019. Wearing his producer hat, Verástegui had to unravel legal issues and find another distributor. Ironically, Sound of Freedom trounced Disney’s new Indiana Jones film on opening day. https://www.indiewire.com/news/box-office/sound-of-freedom-box-office-1234881239/
Surprised, not surprised
Who can object to a movie about rescuing children from human traffickers and pedophiles?
Turns out, lots of people.
It’s not hard to find statistics about child trafficking. Start with the UN, like this report: https://www.unicefusa.org/stories/unicef-and-fight-against-child-trafficking.
Or stories of trafficking survivors like this from The Exodus Road: https://theexodusroad.com/15-us-survivor-stories/
Obviously, movie reviewers like those at Rolling Stone and The Guardian haven’t read those reports.
Instead of acknowledging that Sound of Freedom is based on a true story, they’re trying to smear it as supporting conspiracy theories or attempting to create a “cause célèbre.”
I’ll leave you with the key takeaway from Sound of Freedom.
As Ballard attempts to convince Delgado to bankroll his sting concept (a remote members-only resort for pedophiles in Colombia, inspired by a place in Thailand), he says (and I paraphrase)
“You can only sell a bag of cocaine once. But a child you can sell 5 or 6 times a day. For 10 years.”