There have been a few movies lately where professional critics have eaten them up, while audiences roundly rejected them. Or, vice versa, the critics have detested the product, but audiences have raved about it. Ad Astra and The Last Jedi were critical darlings roundly rejected by audiences. Meanwhile, Warcraft was the other way around. Now it looks like Sound Of Freedom is going the other way and, in the process, becoming yet another battlefront in the culture war.
The movie is directed and co-written by Alejandro Monteverde. It stars Jim Caviezel, whose religious and political views have placed him at odds with the Hollywood machine before. The cast includes Mira Sorvino and Bill Camp. Caviezel plays Tim Ballard, a former government agent who embarks on a mission to rescue children from sex traffickers in Colombia. So far, so normal. So what’s the big deal?
Well, Tim Ballard is a real person. Sound of Freedom was inspired by his work as the founder of Operation Underground Railroad, or O.U.R., an anti-trafficking activist organization. It had a labored journey to the screen. The film was completed in 2018 and a distribution deal was made with 20th Century Fox. However, that studio was purchased by the Walt Disney Company, which shelved the film. The filmmakers reportedly spent years trying to get the distribution rights back from Disney and take it to theaters.
The eventual studio, Angel, used equity crowdfunding to raise the funds needed to distribute and market the film. Something of a movement has built around the movie, with audiences encouraged to “pay it forward” to allow others who may not be able to see the movie to attend screenings.
On the other side is criticism of Ballard himself, with O.U.R.’s direct action approach drawing ire from Anne Gallagher, of the International Bar Association Presidential Taskforce on human trafficking, referring to the organisation having an
“…alarming lack of understanding about how sophisticated criminal trafficking networks must be approached and dismantled”
She has also called O.U.R:
“…arrogant, unethical and illegal…”
Then there is Ballard and Caviezel’s open endorsement of several theories of movements such as QAnon, including the belief that child traffickers drain children’s blood to obtain adrenochrome. Put all this together and you have a perfect culture storm.
On one side you have media outlets, even those who in the past were supportive of Ballard’s efforts, decrying a conspiracy theory, alarmist movie straight from the dark side of the internet. On the other side, those who have spent many years talking in hushed tones around media and establishment child-sex rumors feel this effort to debunk the movie and its subject matter reeks of coordination. The swing from it being referred to as a “heartbreaking call to action to end child trafficking once and for all” to “QAnon adjacent claptrap” has been swift.
Of course, the internet never forgets, there are always receipts, and the meme factory will be working double shifts.
The stage is set for yet another schism, as the movie is selling out where it plays, while the press criticism of the movie becomes as shrill and unhinged as the online commentary from both sides. Brace yourself, this could be the summer’s movie story as big blockbusters fall out of the public discourse.
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