The Catholic Register
September 17, 2023
Human Trafficking

Culture wars be damned, ‘Sound of Freedom’ worth it

Culture wars be damned, ‘Sound of Freedom’ worth it

Jim Caviezel stars in a scene from the movie ‘Sound of Freedom’.

(OSV News photo/Angel Studios)

  • avatar
    Anna Farrow
    The Catholic Register

The film Sound of Freedom tells a fictionalized version of the real-life story of Tim Ballard, a former Department of Homeland Security agent and founder of  the non-profit Operation Underground Railroad, an anti child-sex-trafficking agency whose controversial methods, largely conceived by Ballard, include sting operations.

I went to see the film reluctantly, not because I was worried about being assaulted by QAnon talking points of Tom Hanks and adrenochrome (if you don’t know what I am talking about, don’t bother to look it up, seriously), but because I am old enough to have seen this storyline play out before.

It works like this: a “little-engine-that-could” movie with Christian or pro-life themes is aggressively pitched to faith communities. The social media campaign subtly, or not so subtly, implies that the subject matter is so counter narrative that mainstream outlets are actively working to sabotage the film. To watch the film is somehow tantamount to shaking your fist at the Devil. You can charge your plenary indulgences to your credit card when you grab your popcorn and supersize soda.

In other words, I’m old enough to recognize a marketing campaign when I see one, and I don’t especially like being emotionally manipulated. To add insult to fiscal injury, many of the films I am talking about are just bad. Low budget, stilted acting and lots of rising chord progressions in the soundtrack to elicit the requisite tears.

But, despite reservations, I did go to see Sound of Freedom. I am glad I did. First, it is a solid movie with high production values. Not necessarily award winning, but good. And second, because, having watched the film, I was better able to assess the talk of the talking heads who have been chattering non-stop about the dark-web conspiracy theories underlying the movie (see adrenochrome, above).

From the moment the film was released, there has been an onslaught of gasping reviews and commentary to suggest that Sound of Freedom moviegoers were mouth-breathing, MAGA reprobates. The vitriol reached peak lunacy in an Aug. 11 op-ed written by former Catholic apologist Michael Coren that carried the headline, “The far right’s fixation on pedophilia is dangerous.”

These days it seems that for every single topic fed into the yawning and mashing maw of the Internet, it only takes a nano-second for the political battle lines to be drawn, sides taken and the filth of meaningless epithets — libtard, far right and freedumb — thrown over the 5G-parapets.

Remember when there used to be substantive issues upon which all sides of the political spectrum would rally, putting aside rancour and distrust, and take action to effect meaningful change? Bipartisan is not a term much used in Canada, or in other countries with a parliamentary system, but weren’t there once issues that were, in effect, bipartisan?

You would think that child sex trafficking would be such a straight-up, yup, we got a problem here issue. And you would think that a film that dealt with the topic of child sex trafficking in a way that, without resorting to lurid sensationalism, told a story appealing to the imagination and the heart, would be seen for what it is — an attempt to point to a real societal problem to prompt real societal change.

A review by Owen Gleiberman in Variety magazine took a refreshingly different line from the usual dismissiveness.

Gleiberman wrote, “You needn’t hold extreme beliefs to experience Sound of Freedom as a compelling movie that shines an authentic light on one of the crucial criminal horrors of our time, one that Hollywood has mostly shied away from.”

No doubt, there is lots of legitimate discussion to be had, both around the main character Ballard, who is no longer affiliated with the organization he founded, and with the methods of that organization.

But it is particularly poignant to read a Los Angeles Times interview with Mexican writer and director Alejandro Monteverde, in which he points out that the first screenplay he wrote in 2015 had nothing at all to do with Tim Ballard.

“Nobody came to me to say, ‘Hey, do you want to make a movie about child trafficking?’ Nobody. I was writing another film when I saw a small news piece on child trafficking and child pornography. It shook my soul.”

Monteverde and co-writer Rod Barr, in an opinion piece in The Hollywood Reporter, concluded their piece with a tone of exasperation.

“Child trafficking,” they wrote, “is not a conservative or a liberal issue.”

Perhaps we need to turn once more to the artists, the writers and filmmakers to remind ourselves that there are often more important battles taking place than those being waged in the trenches of the culture wars.

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