Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Sound of Freedom

It's always complicated when a work's value expected to be judged on more standards than entertainment and artistry. This movie is activism; made to shine a harsh light on the realities of child sex trafficking. I think that's a good goal, but good motivation doesn't ensure quality of the product, and I want to judge movies on artistic scales, not moral ones.

So I'm conflicted. Some was really good. And some felt more like a sermon than art.

And with that reservation, I went into this movie already closed off to it. Whether that's fair or not, that's the lens through which I write this. Aware that the goal was raised awareness and not entertainment, I found the opening scenes exploitative and uncomfortable in ways that made me angry at the movie itself, for showing young kids in sexualized situations. That's what the movie wanted; to make me angry, not to entertain. But the story, viewed outside of the movie's framing of it, isn't just about horrors and evil in the world, but about hope, and justice, and the good that fights that evil. 

I'm not usually one for true stories but this ticks the right boxes to work for me. It features a regular guy, just doing his job to the best of his ability—but far beyond what's expected of him, or what others in his position would have done. The plot is self-contained enough that it has a clear point where the goal is accomplished, and all the right places for the ups and downs, tension and release that storytelling is—but the feeling the movie evokes conflicts with all that. It shows but doesn't embody what's on paper. It effectively made me feel sick. It effectively built tension. But then when the goal was accomplished, there was no emotional effectiveness. No release. No relief. Did they mean for those moments to carry catharsis? Or was the lack an intentional choice? 

I enjoyed seeing Jim Caviezel again. I wish they'd found a more creative way of showing Tim's deeper emotions than having him monologue while misty-eyed, though.

Filmmaking 101 says that your opening shot and your closing shot are mirrors of one another. Viewing them side by side, you should be able to see what changed over the course of the story. So, Sound of Freedom opens with the little girl who is will be kidnapped, sitting on her bed, alone in a dim room, playing a drum. And in the ending, after she's rescued, she's in the same room, on the same bed, with the same lighting, playing the same drum. Except... what? There is only one change. And if you're paying attention maybe you're thinking, "she's not alone in the final shot. She's saved and restored to her family, so they're there, gathered around her and they're all happy and free." Nice idea. But no. She's alone at the end, too. The only change is that the camera pans inward at the opening, and outward at the end. And for some reason I can't move past that.

There's a lot of things I could spend time here going over. Things like writing, and performances, and production quality—but all that's sticking with me is this irresolvable question. Why? Why didn't they show her with her family at the end? Why did they make the ending just as bleak as the beginning if the story was supposed to be uplifting? And the only thing I can think of is that they thought if they made the conclusion too happy—if they released their audience and gave them their reward of catharsis—that wouldn't spark as much real-world change as they wanted, because the audience would have a sense of resolution as they left the theater. So they didn't. 

Even the tender moments have this underlying ominous dread. It's just so relentlessly heavy.

They left it focused on the darkness, even though hope was right there on the page, bleeding over from the true story in real life. The reward was there for the taking, but they sacrificed it on moral grounds. For a call to action. And no matter what good intentions they had behind that, I can't like it. It was good in a filmmaking sense. The cast was good. The characters were great. It forced me into the world it built, and it successfully accomplished its goal. But I hated watching it.


  1. This is exactly what I was afraid of with this movie and I appreciate knowing that I'm correct. Thanks for being honest and holding it up to this standard <3

    1. Thanks! I'm sure plenty of people see it differently, but it was what I was afraid it would be for me, too

  2. I really loved it. Sound Of Freedom really speaks to the heart of the devil's work which is to steal, kill and destroy. Sadly we see this all the time going on all over the world which is Satan doing his work which he has been in full swing at it since the creation opening up his shop in the Garden of Eden with his first customers being Adam and Eve. I will be truthful here that seeing Sound Of Freedom really made me think twice about what happened to Joseph when his brothers sold him out of rage and jealousy of him ruling over them which he did. I also loved the fact that my man Jim Caviezel was playing the lead role of Tim Ballard. It never made the light go off in my head with the girl playing the drums in the start of the movie and the end I saw it but based on what you said and now that you put it that way I now see and agree with you.