In a let's-get-to-the-point, hammeringly obvious kind of way, "Sound of Freedom" gets its message across. Child sex trafficking is awful, that much we can all agree upon.
All politics aside — and politics have a lot to do with "Sound of Freedom's" tremendous success at the box office, where it unseated the latest "Indiana Jones" adventure on its opening day — its execution is blunt force and direct. This isn't a thoughtful examination or a ruminative character study, "Sound of Freedom" is a straight up call to arms.
Not in a "Death Wish" kind of way, as "Sound of Freedom" is more muted in its approach than that exploitation fantasy. But it's engineered to speak squarely to its audience, such as when its star looks practically dead into the camera and says, "God's children are not for sale." Cue the rapturous audience applause.
That star is Jim Caviezel, who plays Timothy Ballard, the real-life former Homeland Security agent who formed Operation Underground Railroad, an anti-sex trafficking organization, in 2013. Caviezel, nearly 20 years after "The Passion of the Christ," is a stoic presence on screen, reciting his lines in a whispered hush, and behaving in a way that never allows his character to feel lived in or real. He's purely a stand-in for a cause.
That cause is child trafficking, which the movie throws viewers inside of immediately. In a grungy Honduras hotel room, a father (José Zúñiga) drops off his son (Lucás Ávila) and daughter (Cristal Aparicio), who've been spotted by a local beauty queen (Yessica Borroto) to shoot photos for modeling gigs. "No stage dads allowed," he's told, and so he turns his kids loose. A few hours later, he returns to the room to find everyone's gone without a trace. It's a parent's worst nightmare come true, and the kids are about to enter a nightmare of an infinitely more terrifying design.
Back in the U.S., Ballard is taking down a pedophile trolling the internet for new victims. He's something of an expert in the field, having nabbed nearly 300 such criminals. But his work is all one-sided: While he catches the predators, he's never able to save the prey. It's simply not in his job description.
He uses his leverage at work to change the scope of his efforts, and he entraps the man he's just arrested to get a line on the child side of the operation. This leads Ballard to South America and a rehabilitated sinner (Bill Camp, convincingly and effectively smarmy), who helps him conduct a complicated sting operation, and he's eventually sent deep into the jungles of Colombia, where he tracks down the missing child he's vowed to save, and frees scores of others in the process.
Again, it's effective, the same way a punch to the stomach is effective. It's not particularly nuanced or subtle, and the nitty-gritty details of Ballard's mission (he was able to set up a lavish island faux-trafficking retreat that quickly and easily?) are hazy in the script co-written by Alejandro Monteverde, who also directed.
And there's scant mention of Ballard's home life — in the movie he has six kids, or maybe seven, while in real life he has nine children — and his wife, Katherine (Oscar-winner Mira Sorvino shows up for just a few short scenes), is given nothing to do but support her man with encouraging texts and phone calls from afar.
But even as the film's pacing starts to thud — especially in the third act, when Ballard is painted with increasing sainthood, his blue eyes deep pools of sorrow laced with heroism — its work has been done, competently if not altogether artfully. Sometimes, obvious works just fine.
'SOUND OF FREEDOM'
MPA rating: PG-13 (for thematic content involving sex trafficking, violence, language, sexual references, some drug references and smoking throughout)
Running time: 2:10
How to watch: In theaters
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