It’s a strange road taken which has brought the movie Sound of Freedom to the multiplexes of the UK. Having languished for half a decade due to corporate buyouts and licensing issues, the film landed in America in July to a host of controversy and media circus. As has become the habit, many critics have opted instead to review the complex landscape surrounding the film and the questionable beliefs of the lead actor, barely touching on the film itself. But that’s a choice that risks missing out on a far more interesting duality; that of the film itself.
Sound of Freedom tells a somewhat grandiose and Hollywoodised version of the events surrounding the career of ex-Homeland Security Special Agent, Tim Ballard (Jim Caviezel) and his involvement in various sting operations into the global sex trafficking trade. The film follows the abduction of a pair of siblings, and Ballard’s unremitting resolve in trying to rescue them and reunite them with their father. The movie sees him travel across South America, infiltrating and befriending various criminal groups and trying to break up the criminal networks.
It’s actually quite emotionally effective, tense, and grimly entertaining. Eschewing much of the expected popcorn movie heroics for a procedural realism, what it is not is a bad film. It’s one which likely will strike a chord with many viewers with its blunt and somewhat simplistic message. As Ballard states, with little prompting various times throughout the film, “God’s children are not for sale”. This simplistic righteousness is undoubtedly aided by Caviezel’s stoic seriousness, with eyes almost constantly half-welled with tears. It’s a movie that cries out, often too loudly, that it is very important and wants to be taken seriously.
Ironically, this lead performance also has the side effect of making Caviezel seem rather like a plank of wood, especially when surrounded by the rest of the high calibre cast. Bill Camp turns in a brilliant performance as a cigar chomping ex-Cartel member turned snitch, as well as José Zúñiga as the broken and grieving father, robbed of his children. But the real stars are the child actors, Lucás Ávila and Cristal Aparicio who play the kidnapped siblings. They manage to give credible and affecting performances in some incredibly dark, but tastefully shot and structured scenes. The only poorly served actor is Mira Sorvino, as Ballard’s loyal and supportive wife, whose scenes are shot and blocked in a Christmas Card fake manner, and feel like last-minute insert reshoots.
The main issues with the film lie in it falling into a strange no-man’s land. It’s not willing to be bombastic and ridiculous enough to propel this into the realms of other Hollywood films that touch on the same topic, such as Taken, or Rambo: Last Blood. Yet at the same time, it’s not willing to risk turning itself into the sort of self-reflective serious crime procedural that would really benefit the storytelling, such as last year’s excellent Australian true crime film, The Stranger. Instead it’s a clash of ideas. A well constructed thriller that has mostly solid direction, moments of genuinely brilliant cinematography, and a subtle but moody score by Javier Navarrete. But with a script that errs too often on the side of soap-dish platitudes, and simplification when it easily could be deeper and more intricate. It’s all topped with a last act that feels rushed through to give a neatly tied-up and more traditionally Hollywood finale.
It’s a mixed bag of a film. Fair to say, no-one who sees it with an open mind will walk out feeling disappointed. It may leave a small measure of dissatisfaction with what it could have been, but it’s a solid, measured and decently paced, mid-tier thriller that frankly isn’t really worth the hyperbolic reactions so widely seen waved in either direction.
At cinemas nationwide now