Sound of Freedom: despite good intentions, the film is a shallow representation of child sex trafficking

Alejandro Monteverde, “Sound of Freedom” (2023)

Inspired by and loosely based on the work of activist / author Tim Ballard, “Sound of Freedom” is a straightforward action thriller in which an ex-US government agent rescues two children, a brother and sister, from a child sex trafficking ring operating in Colombia. A poor father in Tegucigalpa, Hondura, is tricked by a former Colombian beauty queen into surrendering his two children Miguel (Lucas Avila) and Rocio (Cristal Paricio) to her, and she promptly has them whisked away, along with other children she has picked up, to Cartagena in Colombia where some of them are parcelled out to paedophiles and sex traffickers. Meanwhile, in the US, Tim Ballard (Jim Caviezel), an agent for the US Department of Homeland Security, is becoming disillusioned with his work hunting down paedophiles and child sex predators. His partner points out that, in spite of all the scum they have put into prison over the years, they have never been able to save any children from exploitation. Ballard decides to take matters into his own hands by talking to one predator and gaining that man’s trust by pretending to be a paedophile himself. He gains enough information from that predator to set up a meeting with a trafficked child and arrest the man who bought the boy. The boy turns out to be Miguel.

Befriending Miguel, Tim asks the boy for information on other trafficked children and learns that Miguel’s sister Rocio is missing. Tim organises for Miguel to be reunited with his father but not before Miguel asks him to rescue Rocio and gives him Rocio’s Saint Timothy necklace. Taking the necklace, Tim begins further investigations that lead him to Cartagena where he meets with Vampiro (Bill Camp), a former accountant for a drug cartel who now devotes his life to rescuing trafficked children. Together and with the help of a Colombian police officer and a wealthy sponsor, Tim and Vampiro lure the network that captured Miguel and Rocio into a trap and manage to arrest the people who had the two children in their clutches. The men also save over 50 young children but Rocio is not among them.

Tim and Vampiro learn from the people they have arrested that Rocio was sold to the leader of rebels fighting for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The police tell Tim and Vampiro that entering the rebels’ territory is far too risky but the two decide to enter anyway disguised as doctors carrying out a vaccination program. The two go deep into the Amazon region and are captured by rebel soldiers who take Tim and the boxes of vaccines with them.

The film runs at a brisk pace and much of the dialogue and action is cut to the most minimal needed to advance the plot, so viewers often have to infer what has already happened or is happening in front of them. There is not much depth in the story or in the characters which are more stereotypes than living, breathing beings, so viewers are not likely to care much about Tim or Rocio. The scope of the film is limited to detailing the child sex trafficking trade in Latin America so very little context is given around the kidnapping of Miguel and Rocio in the first place. Why is Honduras such a poor country, and why is the children’s father eager to surrender Miguel and Rocio to the former beauty queen when she claims to be from an agency recruiting children for modelling? Does he not smell a rat? I guess explaining how Honduras came to be desperately poor would cause discomfort to Americans who would have to acknowledge how their governments from President Ronald Reagan onwards and US agencies like the CIA supported and sponsored military juntas and dictators in that country and other parts of Latin America, encouraging those leaders to pursue economic and political policies that impoverished their peoples and took away their rights and freedoms.

Because the characters are sketchy, they are flat and the cast of actors do what they can with what they are given, with the result that performances range from average to below-average. As the film was made for a politically and socially conservative Christian audience, much of the violence and abuse that occur is inferred rather than shown, and the impact that the film could have made with its message about the evil of child sex trafficking and its effects upon its victims is muted. The film fails to show how Miguel and Rocio might have been traumatised or otherwise affected by their experiences. At times the film appears to cater to racist stereotypes about Jewish people (because a sex predator caught early on happens to be of central European background), Hispanic people and people in poor countries who support socialist or Marxist-Leninist rebel movements. The police in Colombia are shown to be upright while the rebels fighting the Colombian government are sleazy types who force peasants to cultivate coca for the drug trade. While it’s certainly true that FARC was involved in growing coca and trafficking cocaine, the same can be said for the private cartels who had links with and support from individuals and groups in the Colombian government and security forces. Indeed, Colombia has long had a bad reputation for being politically corrupt (to the extent that a culture of bribery is considered normal) as a result of having been colonised by Spain from the 1500s to early 1800s, during which Spain’s corrupt bureaucratic culture spread to its colonies in the Americas.

In the end, though the film starts out with good intentions, it ultimately tells a story that is so far from the reality it purports to portray that it might well do its cause more harm than good. Much of the plot is actually fabricated and (spoiler alert) the happy ending is fictional.