KANSAS CITY – “Sound of Freedom” is a deeply unsettling and unpleasant viewing experience. It’s also a well-done, well-acted, riveting movie which – with a few caveats – demands to be seen.
You may have heard of the film in recent days, perhaps due to its surprise success at the box office, its dark subject matter, its circuitous path to your local theater, or maybe all three.
“Sound of Freedom” is based on the true story of Tim Ballard, federal agent on a crusade to rescue children trapped by human sex trafficking. We follow undercover investigations into pedophiles, squirm as the hero allies with a “former” cartel kingpin, and scoot closer to the edge of our seat as they set up sting operations on tropical islands and dense South American jungles to rescue children trapped in unspeakable circumstances.
If you’re thinking that it doesn’t exactly sound like a feel-good romp, you’re correct. It’s a tense movie, liable to get your heart pounding just as much if not more than any show in theaters. Jim Caviezel (you may remember him from “Passion of the Christ”) absolutely nails his role as Ballard, a man forced to compartmentalize and forget what he sees at work when he clocks out, right up until the moment he can’t. His eyes and unblinking intensity challenge you, dare you to consider a crime and reality we would all rather ignore.
So why the social media buzz and surprise box office success for a movie I’ve labeled unpleasant? “Sound of Freedom” was actually produced four years ago by Fox. After Disney bought that studio, it languished in movie limbo. Some theorize Disney was purposefully hiding the film’s message, but my gut feeling is they simply didn’t see how a movie about busting human traffickers could make money, so studio executives did the math, and then nothing.
Enter Angel Studios, the people behind “The Chosen.” They swooped in and gave the movie a release in theaters this summer. The idea of an underdog movie that exposed a deeply heinous reality appealed to people – especially those already suspicious of Hollywood in general – and it was a surprise hit. It opened in theaters the same weekend as “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” – a legacy action flick with the absolute crème de la crème of Hollywood elite, but, somehow, “Sound of Freedom” earned more than Harrison Ford: I saw “Sound of Freedom” movie nearly a month after that during a 4:05 showing on a Friday afternoon expecting my wife and I to be the alone in theater, but we ended up snagging the only two remaining seats. That’s pretty incredible.
Given the involvement of Angel Studios, it’s fair to assume this is a “Christian movie” (that term is difficult to define, but for now, let’s say it refers to a movie that shows followers of Jesus and that faith in a positive light, usually family friendly). Ballard makes a few references to Scripture throughout the story and the cause of ending human trafficking is certainly righteous, but it’s incorrect to call this a Christian movie.
For one, Ballard is not a Christian; he’s a Mormon. This isn’t made clear in the movie, but it is the case in real life. Given some peoples’ concern over Angel Studios’ ties to the Latter Day Saints, it’s worth noting (you can search “Chosen controversy” on www.mbcpathway.com to learn more about those ties).
Second, it’s not family friendly. I counted six instances of cursing during the show, each was completely unnecessary and took me out of the story. There is smoking and drinking throughout the story. Combined with the dark subject matter, the movie more than earns its PG-13 rating. Though many parents will see the movie as an important message, it is absolutely not for kids. There are many references to sexual predation of children, but as shocking and gut-wrenching as they are, they’re not explicit or exploitative.
But that depiction is at least one compelling reason to consider it a “Christian movie.” Perhaps more than any other movie I’ve seen recently, this movie has a solid understanding of right vs. wrong. Society at large – and Hollywood in particular – actively rejects a Christian worldview that sees things as black and white, good and evil. Most movies don’t deal in absolutes; they tend to play around in the nuances and grey areas, if not embracing sin with a sly wink. “Sound of Freedom” properly identifies sin as sin, and for that it should be applauded.
Further, ending human trafficking and caring for its victims – the United Nations estimates there are 1.2 million each year, many of them children – is an issue followers of Christ should be aware of and champion. “Sound of Freedom” is set mostly in South America, but the disease infects the United States and even Missouri as well: the national Human Trafficking Hotline ranks Missouri with the fourth highest tracking rate in the U.S., with 4.3 people per 100,000.
Ballard and his real-life organization – Operation Underground Railroad – take dramatic steps to rescue children. There are other, less high-profile ministries to consider supporting closer to home.
The Missouri Baptist Children’s Home in December of 2012 opened its doors to victims of human trafficking through its program, Freedom 43:19, which is taken from Isaiah 43:19: “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” Freedom 43:19’s primary focus is to serve women and minors who are victims of sex trafficking. Women who have engaged in sexual activity for payment and desire freedom from the sex industry are served as well. A Cooperative Program ministry, MBCH provides basic housing and safety needs based on each client’s unique situation and provides a comprehensive program of care. No one will release a movie about Freedom 43:19 any time soon, but praise God for the hope MBCH brings to a dark reality, offering clients a chance to heal from the trauma they have experienced and to find ultimate freedom in Christ.