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A good movie gets smeared

Some critics of Sound of Freedom have an obvious agenda

Lucás Ávila and Jim Caviezel in Sound of Freedom Angel Studios

A good movie gets smeared
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If you weren’t already planning to see the new film Sound of Freedom this week, the mainstream media seems determined to make sure you do—not that this is their intention. After opening on July 4, the modestly budgeted anti-child-trafficking thriller is surpassing box office expectations, earning much more per screen than the new Indiana Jones movie. It’s well-written, well-acted, and urgently raises awareness about a global social injustice. So why isn’t it being met with glowing reviews? 

Rolling Stone sneers, “Sound Of Freedom Is a Superhero Movie for Dads With Brainworms,” further elaborating that the “QAnon-tinged” thriller is “designed to appeal to the conscience of a conspiracy-addled boomer.” Never mind that the film mostly takes place in Central and South America, recreating actual missions that saved actual children. The magazine makes the particularly nasty claim that the film “fetishizes” the torture of its child victims, which is completely false: The film in fact shows great restraint, at most giving us a silent up-close shot of protagonist Tim Ballard’s tearful eye as he examines what we assume to be child porn. Ballard, a former special agent whose heroics are lightly dramatized in the story, now spearheads the independent organization Operation Underground Railroad (OUR), which not only works to rescue children but also provides them with years of after-care.

Meanwhile, The Guardian’s headline repeats the refrain that the film is “QAnon-adjacent” and “paranoid,” only to reluctantly admit halfway through the review that it is in fact “mostly straightforward,” and you have to squint at the “subtext” to pick up on the really sinister stuff. Jezebel’s Rich Juzwiak sniffs that the only thing “visually distinguishing” a child’s rescue from a kidnapping is “the implied virtue,” because the hero escapes with her in a speeding van. I wonder if Mr. Juzwiak reviews medical shows like this. The only thing that visually distinguishes this open-heart surgery from a scene out of a slasher movie is the implied virtue.

The media has repeatedly tried to link Ballard and OUR with QAnon conspiracists, despite repeated disavowals. In a recent interview with Jordan Peterson, Ballard once again made it clear that he has never been affiliated with QAnon and rejects their elaborate claims about elite cabals of celebrity pedophiles, cannibals, and more. It’s true that he could tell you some very real horror stories about how children’s organs and blood are harvested for occult purposes in places like Africa, but that is a distinctive context, to say the least.

The reason for the coordinated backlash is clear: Movies made by and for conservatives simply aren’t supposed to do well.

Separately, lead star Jim Caviezel is also under fire for allegedly “embracing” QAnon. This is also a distortion, though it may be true that Caviezel could use wiser guidance about the catch phrases he picks up and the company he keeps. It also appears that he once attempted to convey something about Ballard’s fight against occult crimes in Africa to an audience primed for more sweeping conspiracy theories, which naturally has become grist for the mainstream media mill. He’s also earnestly recirculated some dodgy theories about adrenochrome-harvesting. In short, like many earnest people of his generation who aren’t perfectly internet-savvy, Caviezel could perhaps be fairly accused of being naive or gullible. But the media isn’t content to rest there.

In the end, the reason for the coordinated backlash is clear: Movies made by and for conservatives simply aren’t supposed to do well. They’re supposed to be cheap, embarrassing affairs, destined to sputter and die in the DVD bargain bin. Sound of Freedom broke the rules by not being that kind of movie. After being shoved into post-production limbo when Disney acquired its distributor, 20th-Century Fox, it found new legs with the fast-growing indie distributor Angel Studios (of The Chosen fame). By this unlikely route, it became a theatrical success story, in a time when theatrical success stories are few and far between, even for studio giants. 

The reason for that success is likewise clear: This is a simple story of good versus evil, masculine virtue, and the sort of intimately focused heroism audiences crave in a cinematic landscape awash with galaxy-scale superhero sagas. It used to be enough for Peter Parker to save one little girl from a burning building. Now, the entire known universe must hang in the balance. Sound of Freedom reminds us that sometimes, saving one little girl is enough. 

Jim Caviezel offers a heartfelt message to the audience after the credits roll. The hit pieces make it sound like a wild-eyed political screed. In fact, it’s an uplifting ode to the power of filmic storytelling. In the end, Caviezel says, the story’s true heroes are the small brother and sister who refuse to give up hope that they will be rescued. The storyteller has the power to take their weakness and hold it up as strength. That is what storytelling is for, after all. Isn’t it?

Bethel McGrew

Bethel McGrew is a math Ph.D. and widely published freelance writer. Her work has appeared in First Things, National Review, The Spectator, and many other national and international outlets. Her Substack, Further Up, is one of the top paid newsletters in “Faith & Spirituality” on the platform. She has also contributed to two essay anthologies on Jordan Peterson. When not writing social criticism, she enjoys writing about literature, film, music, and history.


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