Monday, 24 June 2024

‘Sound of Freedom’ trafficking thriller set in a dark world


What could possibly be entertaining in a film about the sex trafficking of children? The subject matter of “Sound of Freedom” is powerful in its mission to bring awareness to human tragedy that is shameful and despicable.

If there’s just one film this summer that carries an important message, this one based on the incredible story of former federal agent Tim Ballard is it for shining a bright light on a dark underworld.

That there has been some controversy over “Sound of Freedom” is somewhat mystifying. Allegations have been tossed about QAnon conspiracy theories. But the QAnon Shaman dressed like a Viking during the Capitol riot is nowhere in sight.

One review posted on Rotten Tomatoes seems to think the movie is an alt-right rallying cry that is profiting off “conspiracy-fueled mass hysteria.” On the other hand, positive audience reviews are through the roof.

Granted, the anti-human trafficking activist Tim Ballard, who was a Homeland Security special agent and then founder of Operation Underground Railroad, is played by Jim Caviezel, an actor probably best-known for playing Jesus in “The Passion of the Christ.”

Whether Caviezel being a devout Catholic has maybe steered him to some unconventional stances is immaterial to the intensity and conviction he brings to the role of the federal agent first seen busting a consumer of Internet child porn.

If there’s a religious undertone to the story, Caviezel’s Ballard explains his obsession with the crime of child sex trafficking on his belief that “God’s children are not for sale.” That axiom is even a refrain in a featured song.

However, there’s no compelling reason, other than to cast aspersions on someone for perceived unorthodox viewpoints, to dwell on any ostensible political bias that’s not blatantly evident in the movie.

What’s on the screen is a thriller, and one should hope that going after pedophiles is not a left-right issue. After all, does anyone have anything positive to say about the likes of a Jeffrey Epstein? Didn’t think so, unless maybe you’re Prince Andrew, Duke of York.

Back to the opening story of taking down a creep for sexual perversion, Ballard has already arrested hundreds of the human filth who distribute sexually exploitative material, but now he wants to get to the root cause of the problem, and that means heading south of the border.

In Honduras, single father Roberto (Jose Zuniga) is enticed by former beauty queen and music competition show promoter Katy (Yessica Borroto Perryman) to allow his 11-year-old daughter Rocio (Cristal Aparicio) to audition for a contest.

Rocio’s 8-year-old brother Miguel (Lucas Avila) is part of the package as well for the talent show. The audition seems to be legitimate, but when the father returns later to pick up the kids, the place is empty and deserted. A parent’s worst nightmare ensues.

After uncovering some connections obtained from the last person he arrested, Ballard spearheads an operation to apprehend a trafficker at the Mexican border, leading to the fortuitous rescue of the traumatized Miguel.

However, it is not mission accomplished, since Rocio has disappeared into the wind, mostly likely in South America, but she could be anywhere, maybe in Russia or Los Angeles.

The trail might lead to Colombia and Ballard convinces his boss (Kurt Fuller) for a week’s leave and spending cash for an unsanctioned foreign operation, but soon he resigns his position with the support of his wife (Mira Sorvino) to go full lone ranger.

In Bogota, Ballard’s contact is Vampiro (Bill Camp), an American expatriate with a shady past of laundering money for the cartels but who’s now willing to work on the right side of the law.

A scheme is hatched to team up with the deep-pocketed Pablo (Eduardo Verastegui) to create a phony members-only exclusive club on a remote island for well-heeled pedophiles. The plan is to deceive traffickers in order to liberate enslaved children.

The plot works to a point. A bunch of truly horrible criminals, including the former beauty queen Katy, are captured by a Colombian task force, but Rocio is not among the children who are rescued.

The next step becomes far more dangerous for Ballard, who is now being helped by Vampiro. Signs point in the direction of the no man’s land of Narino Province, a place much like the Bronx in the Seventies. Neither the police nor the army dare to enter this criminal stronghold.

The remote jungle of the province is the domain of the warlord named Scorpio who runs a cocaine factory and has Rocio hostage as his sex slave. Ballard and Vampiro pose as U.N. doctors bringing vaccines to eradicate an imaginary outbreak.

Posing as the fake doctor in the rebel camp where Scorpio’s henchmen are a bunch of trigger-happy lunatics does ratchet up the dramatic thrills for Ballard’s single-minded determination to save Rocio.

“Sound of Freedom” takes dramatic liberties with a dangerous journey into the jungle, but it only serves to heighten the basic story of the horrors perpetrated by evil people.

Tim Riley writes film and television reviews for Lake County News.

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