I went to see “Sound of Freedom” for much the same reason I went to see “Barbie” — to see if the pre-opening buzz was valid.
In the Good Old Days, the pre-opening buzz was gushing, usually planted and ignited by the studios, to amp up appetite for the film.
In our highly politicized era, however, the buzz is more likely to be negative, and an attempt to kill the baby in its crib.
For “Barbie,” the darts came from the Right, painting the movie as an anti-male, post-feminine screed.
As I wrote the other day, it is not.
I realize everyone views art through their own lens, but any man who feels assaulted by the cartoony “Barbie” must have a) a very fragile ego, and b) no sense of humor, because the light-hearted movie even pokes fun at Barbie and toymaker Mattel. It is not to be taken seriously and will not be required viewing for Princeton University’s “Introduction to Post Feminist Thought 101.”
The anti-Barbie shade-throwing was social.
For “Sound of Freedom,” the artillery fire came from the Left, and it was political.
Partly because male lead Jim Caviezel is an adherent to some QAnon cuckoo conspiracy theories, and supposedly has made some anti-semitic remarks. (He happens to resemble the real Tim Ballard, hero of the movie).
To politically aligned “critics,” the line of “thinking” goes like this: If QAnon (and garden variety conservatives) like it, it must be bad. And wrong. It is a false flag accusation.
To believe as some do (probably not having seen the movie) that “Sound of Freedom” is QAnon propaganda, then they would have to condemn the “Mission Impossible” franchise as Scientology baloney because of Tom Cruise’s beliefs.
The headline of a review of “Sound of Freedom” in the Jewish Telegraphic Agency said: “Surprise Blockbuster ‘Sound of Freedom’ echoes anti-semitic QAnon conspiracies.”
No it doesn’t, not at all. Not in a single frame, and I was looking and listening for it. No echoes.
I said earlier people view things subjectively, and people are entitled to their opinions, but if those opinions are based on fantasy and bias, they aren’t worth much.
There is nothing in the movie that suggests the popular QAnon conspiracy that Hollywood is a cabal of progressive elites who control the world and run a child-trafficking ring, through which they harvest the hormone adrenochrome from children.
There is nothing in the movie that even hints of any such thing.
German man of letters Johann von Goethe developed a widely-followed three-question formula for judging a work of art:
1) What is the artist trying to do?, 2) How well does the artist do it?, and 3) Is it worth doing?
There is no 4): What is the artist’s politics, nationality, race, or religion?
“Sound of Freedom” is based on the exploits of Tim Ballard, who worked pedophilia cases for the Department of Homeland Security before quitting to go to Honduras, the intake source for the network of global child trafficking.
The mainspring of the movie is Ballard’s drive to rescue an Honduran 11-year-old girl and her 8-year-old brother who were kidnapped and sold as sex slaves in Colombia.
The movie says it is based on a true story — Tim Ballard’s — and it is, but some elements of it are utterly improbable.
Such as a sting operation he organized in Colombia with the help of a very rich friend. They built a resort that would cater to millionaire pedophiles. Local sex traffickers were invited to bring hostage children to the island where they would be bought.
Some 54 children were brought to the island, and all the traffickers were arrested. As unbelievable as it sounds, that actually happened — only the number was 120.
The Vice website has reported that Ballard has exaggerated some of his exploits, and recently reportedly left the group he founded, the Operation Underground Railroad, after criticism by some employees. That is true, but happened after events depicted in the movie.
Ballard started Operation Underground Railroad, described by the Calexico Chronicle as “an anti-sex trafficking nonprofit” in 2013.
Those who think movies “based on a true story” are true to that story in all details are kidding themselves. The extended scene in which Ballard penetrates a rebel army camp to rescue the 11-year-old makes for a happy ending, but is fiction.
Since Ballard has six children, you can infer that he’s a Christian conservative, but he never speaks of religion, other than to say, in explaining his motivation, “God’s children are not for sale.”
That strikes me as more of a moral statement than a religious one.
Another character, Vampiro, was a drug cartel boss who turned to rescuing children after an epiphany, saying, “When God tells you what to do, you cannot hesitate.” That’s it, as far as religion is concerned.
The film was made in 2018, but lost its distributor when Disney acquired 21st Century Fox in 2019. Neither major studio wanted it, nor did Netflix and Amazon.
Early this year it was picked up by Angel Studios, known for making faith-based films.
Why did the majors turn their backs on it?
Well, as an action thriller, it is not a world beater.
It was made for a paltry $14 million, and the budget girdle is obvious in some scenes, such as when Ballard visits a pedophile for the purpose of turning him, and the federal prison is empty of guards or other inmates.
Because it’s going into the weekend, Ballard explains, no one is around. It’s too bad the script writers are on strike.
A thriller requires dramatic tension and jeopardy for the star, which this lacks. The jeopardy attaches to the children, which results more in sympathy than fear. The filmmakers decided against showing any physical or sexual abuse of the terrified children.
So if it is so weak, why are audiences responding to it so ferociously — more than $110 million since its July 4th opening?
For one thing, it is driven by a clear Good vs Evil narrative, as was “Top Gun: Maverick,” a box office smash.
For another, the Good Guy wins.
For yet another, it was the emotional subject matter, beautifully executed by the two child actors with the big brown eyes and the fearful posture.
Word-of-mouth propelled ticket sales, and Angel — saying it wanted the important message to reach a maximum audience — made free tickets available and audiences were asked to go to the Angel website to pay it forward by buying tickets for others.
The movie closes by saying child trafficking is a $150-billion business, which is a recognized fact. More than 40 million people are currently held in bondage.
These facts might be new to the audience, and that might have increased their reaction to it.
What I can say for sure, the movie has nothing to do with any conspiracy theories. It tells a ghoulish truth.
I can also say the movie has been warmly received by Republicans, but is viewed with suspicion by Democrats.
Because only the Right cares about the trafficking of children? Because the subject makes them think of convicted child molester Jeffrey Epstein?