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Sound of Freedom

Rating: PG-13

Genre: Biography/History, Christian, Crime, Drama

Directed and Produced by: Alejandro Monteverde

Writers: Rod Barr and Alejandro Monteverde

Release Date: July 4, 2023

Runtime: 131 Minutes

Cast: Jim Caviezel as Tim Ballard; Mira Sorvino as Catherine Ballard; Bill Camp as Vampiro; Cristal Aparicio as Rocio Aguilar; Lucás Ávila as Miguel Aguilar; Yessica Borroto as Giselle; José Zúñiga as Roberto Aguilar

Review Courtesy: PluggedIn
Reviewer: Adam R. Holz

Roberto Aguilar made one mistake.

He believed that Giselle was who she said she was; that the charismatic woman was the founder of the talent agency Discover Your Dreams. She told him that his two children—Rocio, 11; and Miguel, 4—might be perfect for it.

Roberto, a loving, hard-working welder in Honduras, perhaps saw her interest as a stepping-stone to a better life for his children. “I believe Rocio may have the talent to be in the entertainment business,” she tells Roberto.

But Giselle isn’t in the talent business. She is in the sex-trafficking business. By the time Roberto returns to a rundown hotel to pick up his kids after their day-long “audition,” Giselle is long gone, Rocio and Miguel with her.

And they might have been gone forever but for the determination of one guy.

Tim Ballard is a good man doing a very hard job for the Department of Homeland Security: tracking down pedophiles in the United States who prey upon trafficked children. He’s caught 288 of them, including the latest, an extremely nasty fellow named Oshinsky.

Ballard craftily coaxes critical information regarding Miguel’s whereabouts out of that trafficker, rescuing the boy.

And that’s when he learns about Rocio, by now on her way deep into the jungles of Colombia after being sold off to a crime kingpin. Suddenly, busting perps in the United States isn’t enough for him. He wants the green light—and the funds—to head to South America to rescue her.

“We’re Homeland Security,” his boss tells him. “You know we can’t go off rescuing Honduran kids in Colombia.” Then he adds, “Look, the boy is back with his father. That’s a career capper. Take it, and move on.”

“I can’t,” Tim says. “I don’t think you understand what I’m asking you. Sure, this job tears you to pieces. And this is my one chance to put those pieces back together.”

And with that, he boards a plane to Cartagena, Colombia, determined to rescue a little girl who’s been vacuumed into darkness unimaginable.

After Tim returns little Miguel to his grateful father, Roberto, the man tearfully speaks of his daughter, Rocio, saying, “Could you sleep at night knowing one of your children’s beds is empty?” That encounter and those haunting words prove to be the catalyst that ignites Tim’s quest to locate and extract the little girl.

Tim goes to extraordinary lengths to save Rocio. The first step of the plan involves impersonating a millionaire and setting up an island as a sex-trafficking destination. That part of the plan nets many traffickers and the rescue of some 54 children.

Rocio isn’t among them. The sting operation does, however, yield intel on her whereabouts. She’s being held in a mountain camp run by some very, very bad men. Not only is the camp physically remote, but these people are so bad that no one goes there—not the authorities, not the government, not anyone.

But Tim and one of his allies in Colombia, a reformed former cartel money man named Vampiro, hatch a long-shot plot: They pretend to be medical personal vaccinating people against a cholera outbreak. It involves taking a boat trip deep into the jungle and then pulling off their impersonation of medical professionals. Both risk their lives to find this one little girl.

Tim uses his own finances, too. When Tim heads to South America, he’s initially given $10,000 for the operation from his boss. He burns through that money quickly, then quits his job and uses his own resources to continue financing his dogged pursuit of Rocio. Information during the credits tells us that by the time Tim left Colombia, he and his team had rescued more than 120 children and arrested more than a dozen sex traffickers.

There’s not a ton of overtly spiritual content here. But in one critical and powerful scene, Tim quotes Jesus’ warning in Luke 17:2: “Better a millstone be hung around your neck and you be cast into the sea than you should ever hurt one of these little ones.”

It’s clear, then, that Tim is motivated at a deep level by his faith. Anyone researching Tim Ballard’s life will find that he’s a Mormon, though the film never references his particular faith explicitly.

We repeatedly hear the phrase, “God’s children are not for sale.” While the film itself doesn’t connect these dots, it’s hard not to think of Tim’s fierce, indefatigable pursuit of Rocio as a metaphor for Christ’s pursuit of us. Tim goes into one of the darkest places imaginable to emancipate one trapped little girl, just as Jesus went to an even darker place to save each and every one of us.

The film’s entire plot obviously revolves around sex trafficking of children.

During Giselle’s initial photo shoot with Roscio, Miguel and perhaps a dozen other children, Giselle has them pose provocatively and suggestively. The children think that they’re just doing photos as part of the talent search, but obviously the photos will be used on traffickers’ websites.

A guy in a chat on the Dark Web posts pictures of children and says creepily, “Here it is, gentlemen. My spring sampler.”

Vampiro tells the story of his “conversion” out of a life of crime. He hired a prostitute, only to find out after the fact that she was just 14, and that she was trafficked when she was just 6 years old. His conscience is stricken, and he changes his ways when he realizes that he doesn’t want to be someone contributing to destroying the lives of children.

Giselle and other women wear some revealing outfits. We briefly see the outside of what looks like a strip club in Tiajuana. Tim and Vampiro often meet in clubs with people dancing intimately and sensually in the background. Multiple conversations revolve around sex clubs and sex trafficking hotspots around the world.

The children abducted by Gisella are kept in a steel freight container (think railroad box car) as they are shipped from Honduras to Colombia. They’re given water, but it’s clear that they’re kept in the container, screaming and crying, for days.

Once Rocio is delivered to her captors, She’s branded on the back of her neck with a tattoo declaring who owns her, much like a cattle brand. We see her wincing in pain as the tattoo is applied.

The film never actually depicts sexual assaults against children. But one of the movie’s most disturbing scenes shows an adult man shutting the curtains of his hotel room with 4-year-old Miguel sitting on the bed. The man has just told the boy that he must do everything the man asks, or his sister may be harmed. We later learn that the little boy was held in sexual slavery in Tijuana, Mexico, for three months.

Another similar scene in Colombia shows the crime lord, called The Scorpion, about to crawl into bed with a child. Tim is hiding in the room and jumps the man. A violent scuffle ensues in which Tim ultimately strangles the man to death.

Still another heartrending moment involves Tim (as part of his job) watching videos of children being sexually assaulted. We see tears well up in his eyes as he narrates it for his report.

A trafficker wants to have his foul way with a little boy.

Tim is chased by men shooting at him and a child he just rescued. Pursuit and gunfire persist when they’re on the boat and then in an SUV fleeing the remote mountainous jungle of Colombia.

Stateside, Tim threatens to extradite a perpetrator to Colombia for trial. If the man ends up in prison there, Tim warns, he’ll be castrated and raped every day.

Later, we see a still photo of a pedophile killed in prison in that country, his head lying in a pool of blood.

A montage of authentic-looking, black-and-white surveillance videos shows children literally being abducted right off the streets of (presumably) Central American cities.

We hear three uses of the s-word, as well as three uses each of “a–” and “a–hole.” There is one use each of “h—” “d–n” and “d-mmit.”

Multiple characters smoke and drink throughout the film. Vampiro, in particular, is rarely without a cigar. We also hear some verbal references to the drug trade in Colombia.

None, other the fact that every aspect of the story here takes place in a seedy underworld that requires Tim and his team to pretend to be just as horrific as the perps they’re pursuing.

Let’s be blunt: Sound of Freedom is a brutal film to watch. But it also might be the most important movie you see this year.

Sex trafficking, we hear in the film, is the fastest-growing international crime network the world has ever seen.

“You can sell a 5-year-old kid five to 10 times a day for 10 years straight, every day. Ordinary people don’t want to hear it. It’s too ugly for polite conversation. But meanwhile, over 2 million children a year are being sucked into the deepest recesses of hell.”

Sound of Freedom isn’t a movie you watch for entertainment or escape from the summer heat. It’s movie you buy a ticket to because you’re willing to enter into the ugliness of this societal scourge. It’s a movie you give consent to shock you out of complacency. It’s a movie that can’t help but light the fuse on the question, “What can I do?”

Most of us won’t, probably, go to the lengths that Tim Ballard did. But a movie like this, as hard as it is to watch, could serve as a searing catalyst to look for ways that you can help combat human trafficking in your city, your state.

Because, as Ballard says, “God’s children are not for sale.”

The Reviewer – Adam R. Holz
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and ... watching movies.