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I’ve seen ‘Sound of Freedom’

I recently made a resolution to see more films in cinemas. It’s a bizarre coincidence that the first film I’ve subsequently seen has an over-the-credits speech by the lead actor about the impact of seeing films in cinemas, and hubristically underlining the importance of this particular film. The fact that I spent much of that speech racking my brain to remember the product name of the IKEA floor-lamp he was sat next to—it’s an Årstid, if you’re wondering—gives some idea of the impact of the speech.

I went into this blind. I had no idea of the whole Trump / QAnon controversy associated with the film. If you’ve no idea what I’m talking about, it’s a US culture war rabbit hole that you’re better off ignoring, as I will for the remainder of this post.

This was a really odd film. It is apparently based on the life of Tim Ballard, who is played by Jim Caviezel, and his work with Operation Underground Railroad. The film’s expressed mission is to raise awareness of child sex trafficking. This seems to be ’raise awareness’ in the sense of ‘make people aware that it exists’, not in the sense of ‘make people aware of their own agency in influencing the situation’. This is fine, if we accept that there are people unaware of child sex trafficking, which is surely a small group.

Oddly, for a film raising awareness, the victims’ narratives are mostly skimmed over. Once children are rescued, they are portrayed as immediately happy, as though their experiences might not leave lifelong psychological and physical scars. Instead, the film follows a sort of ‘rogue US agent saves the world from evil foreigners’ script, concentrating on the rescuer’s narrative.

There’s a troubling undertone of religion as a driving force for the action, with the lead character gravely intoning that ‘God’s children are not for sale’ in a moment that, I’m afraid, caused me to audibly snort. Women in the film aren’t really given much opportunity to offer thoughts on the wider issue of trafficking, and there’s a fundamental assumption that everyone involved is plainly evil: there’s no moral complexity or challenge to be found.

There was a brief promise of some interesting moral questions, like how we should support those who are forced to watch images of child abuse for investigation and evidential purposes… but it turns out that the film’s answer was, well, not very satisfactory.

Perhaps weirdest of all, in a film that is reputedly trying to convince its audience to care about a huge problem, not a single one of the characters is motivated by it. Indeed, several actively demur from tackling trafficking in general, and will only consent to becoming involved when a specific child is on the line. That’s a peculiar narrative choice given the message.

Basically, this film gets a ‘no’ from me, with the sole exception of the child actor Lucas Avila, who steals every scene he is in, and is completely heart-melting.

This post was filed under: Film, Post-a-day 2023, , .

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22nd September 2023.

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