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Freedom Sounds an Awful Lot Like Stupidity
'Sound of Freedom' is a dumb movie, and I am a dumber person for having watched it.
Despite what you might infer from its title, Sound of Freedom is not a rockumentary about the band Lynyrd Skynyrd. Rather, it is a White Savior movie about a former Homeland Security agent who goes rogue to save a bunch of kids (but really just one little girl) from child sex traffickers. A dear old friend recently requested that I and another beloved pal watch the movie, because as it turns out, he secretly despises us both and has been plotting revenge for twenty years.
Sound of Freedom was originally supposed to be released by Disney several years ago, but the purveyors of Song of the South decided that even they couldn’t touch this thing. It was ultimately released this past July by the Mormon company Angel Studios, and almost immediately became the subject of controversy. This drama was in part due to the fact that at least some of the people who made the movie are are right wing conspiracy theorists, and in part due to the fact that it made a LOT of money, allegedly at least in part by using shady business practices.
Sound of Freedom stars QAnon advocate Jim Caviezel - most famous for playing the Christ in The Passion of the Christ, the Count of Monte Cristo in The Count of Monte Cristo, and the line in The Thin Red Line - as Tim Ballard. Ballard is a real guy who really did work for Homeland Security before launching the nonprofit anti-sex trafficking organization Operation Underground Railroad (O.U.R.). A lot of his claims appear to be either greatly exaggerated or total B.S., and he was ultimately forced to leave O.U.R. amid allegations of sexual misconduct, although that part isn’t in the movie for some reason.
But even if we pretend that none of those things are true… even if we tell ourselves that Sound of Freedom was a legitimate breakthrough hit about an important subject as conveyed by saintly people who are experts on the matter… Sound of Freedom is, objectively, a bad movie. The direction is bad, the acting is bad, the way it’s shot is bad, the editing is bad, the production design, the costumes, the music, all of it is just very, very bad. I bet even the craft services on this production were shit.
It’s not even bad in a funny way - anyone hoping for a scene where the hero dramatically bursts into the basement of a pizzeria just in time to prevent Hillary Clinton from drinking a child’s blood is going to be sorely disappointed. Fact is, Sound of Freedom is incredibly boring, because it has no interesting characters and is largely without conflict or cleverness. What’s Tim’s motivation? He thinks child sex slavery is bad. So what does he do? He hatches an obvious and straightforward plan to rescue kidnapped kids. If he needs a thing from a guy to enact his plan, he goes and gets the thing from the guy. He then executes that plan without a hitch. Then he does it all over again, twice. The end.
Do his wife and nine children - NINE!!! - mind him leaving home for months at a time? Nope! Does his decision to quit quit the Department of Homeland Security, lest he have his hands tied by bureaucratic red tape, have any consequences? It sure doesn’t! When he needs help from the U.S. government just a few scenes later, is able to call his old boss and have his request granted immediately? Yup! There’s not even the traditional moment in this kind of scene where we watch the boss sit there sweating, knowing that whether or not he chooses to aid Tim will have major repercussions. Tim just goes “I know I quit but I need something” and his boss just goes “Okay sounds good to me!” and that takes care of that.
(The boss, by the way, is played by Kurt Fuller. Kurt Fuller is still alive, you guys!)
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Not a single element of the plot feels even mildly authentic. An undercover sting operation involves positioning men wearing tactical gear and wielding automatic weapons in boats clearly classifying them as law enforcement within easy viewing distance of a trafficker’s drop-off point. Tim needs to convince a pedophile that he’s an ally, so he removes the pedophile from prison and takes him home for tea (seriously, this is something that happens in this movie). Later, Tim magically knows precisely which part of the Mexico–United States border a trafficker will use to smuggle a child into America, and he’s able to identify one victim because she has a tattoo the traffickers gave her even though no one ever told him about the tattoo and there’s no way he could have possibly just known about it on his own. Any conversation that might logically explain how Tim accomplishes anything is glossed over in montage, because there likely is no logical explanation how Tim accomplishes anything. He becomes so hung up on rescuing one girl in particular that in the mind of the viewer, it is bound to become an ethical quandary: He escapes an island with this girl while leaving other sex slaves behind, because who cares about those people, I guess? An epilogue tells us he sent someone back for the other poor schmucks at a later date, which was nice of him.
Even the movie’s title makes no sense. It’s called Sound of Freedom because there’s a scene where these kids who have just been rescued from slavers start singing, which one of the guys who helped save them calls “The sound of freedom.” But we’ve been told that all of these kids have already suffered a lot of physical abuse. It seems highly unlikely that they’d now burst into song, like the Ewoks after the defeat of the Empire at the end of Return of the Jedi…unless maybe the lyrics to the song were actually “Please help, I am going to need a lifetime of therapy to cope with this trauma.” I dunno, they weren’t singing in English.
Unsurprisingly, the movie is also racist: A couple of the pedophiles are White, but the sex traffickers are, exclusively, Latin and/or Black. Tim, his wife, and their 27 children, however, are the Aryan ideal of requiring SPF 5,000,000 to go out in the sun; they’re not White so much as they’re translucent.
And don’t worry, it gets a shot at homosexuals in, too: The movie’s one moment of “comic relief” involves Tim’s disapproving reaction to one man kissing another man on the hand.
But hey, at least the movie is an eyesore to boot! The walls of every set, and roughly 90% of the costumes, are all the color of split pea soup, and everything that isn’t regurgitation green is fecal brown. If you take a shot every time a scene transitions via a dissolve, you will need to have your stomach pumped within the first twenty minutes.
Then there’s absolutely INSANE number of shots in which director/co-writer Alejandro Monteverde and cinematographer Gorka Gómez Andreu choose to either pull out slowly from or push in slowly on a frame-within-a-frame.
The movie also makes expert use of subtle symbolism. For example, there’s this one pedo who uses a butterfly symbol on the dark web site he uses to sell children, and then, later, he’s seen sitting in front of a decorative butterfly on the wall! BRILLIANT!!!
Caviezel, meanwhile, is a black hole of charisma, emotion, or anything that might make the audience latch onto Tim as an actual human being. Perpetually dewy-eyed, either unable or unwilling to speak above a whisper, the actor mostly just stares blankly and lets the Kuleshov effect do all the heavy lifting. There are multiple shots that hold on his face for so long, and during which he does so little, that I thought the stream had frozen and I was looking at a still image.
At least Caviezel gets close-ups. Academy Award winner Mira Sorvino is in the movie as Tim’s wife, but she has all of six lines, and you don’t get a clear shot of her face until halfway through the movie. Filmed predominantly in profile from a soundstage half a mile away, you’d have to squint most of the time to even realize it’s her.
The movie’s sole bright spot is American goddamn treasure Bill Camp, playing a kind of Felix Leiter role to Caviezel’s James
Bland Bond. Not only does Camp dare to emote, but he gets more backstory than any other character in the film, explained via a monologue which I’m reasonably certain is longer than all of Caviezel’s dialogue combined. And while that backstory is as dumb as everything else in this turd, it means his character is at least two-dimensional, which is two dimensions more than anyone else gets. That he was able to get through even a single take of this dreck without laughing in Caviezel’s face probably warrants an Oscar or a Golden Globe or at least a People’s Choice Award.
Sound of Freedom is a stupid movie, and I am a stupider person for having watched it. On the plus side, if you’re a Iago-type who wants to insidiously trick a so-called “friend” into doing some serious self-harm, you can totally trick them into watching this crap and they will rue the day they ever crossed you. BWA-HA-HA-HA!!!