“Too Ugly For Polite Company”: A Film Review of “The Sound of Freedom”

“What man of you that hath an hundred sheep: and if he shall lose one of them, doth he not leave the ninety-nine in the desert, and go after that which was lost, until he find it?” (Lk 15:4)

God bless Jim Caviezel. He reminds me of the leper who was healed by Jesus in Luke’s gospel–one of ten but the only one to return and give glory and thanks to God (Lk 17:11-19). I think because Caviezel himself recognizes the debt that has been settled for his life, and the ransom paid in blood, is he able to return to the screen to give God the glory in his profession as an actor. He knows he is a man who was dead to sin, but saved by Christ and set free (Rom 6:11). He knows what it means to be saved.

And God bless Tim Ballard, the real life DHS agent-turned-vigilante about whom the film is based. The Sound of Freedom is tough viewing, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be viewed. And that’s not because of any graphic depictions or lewdness, but simply because of the subject matter itself. Child sex trafficking is a multi billion (with a B) dollar industry that operates on the market principals of supply and demand. And the Devil’s business is booming.

One of the frustrating things about being awash in societal “issues”–from climate change to cobalt mining to you name it–is that it becomes easy to paint in generalities: that somewhere out there something bad is happening, and someone is vying for our attention to “do something about it.” In that sense, the producers of The Sound of Freedom are not unique in trying to mobilize action for a cause. 

But as a father myself, it was very hard to be a neutral viewer. “These are God’s children,” as Ballard says in the film. I don’t think any father can really be a completely academic or neutral party in this nightmare. You see your own children in the faces of these poor children stolen and sold into a life of slavery of the most degrading type imaginable. “How could you sleep,” the father of the two Honduran children who Ballard sets out to rescue tells him, “when you know their bed at home is empty?” The fact is, as a parent of such victimization, I don’t think you ever sleep again.

That such heinous sin (let’s call it what it is) passes right under our noses, day in and day out, not just here in the U.S. but in every country in the world, it may be easy to grow numb to it and feel dis-empowered. But that’s where I think the film shines, because it highlights a man who could have easily said, “What difference does it make? We save one kid, and there are ninety-nine others who are lost?” Being ten months away from being vested in his government pension, it would have been easy to Ballard to settle in and do what he can from the sidelines, taking the safe and acceptable route of doing his part to fight this scourge. 

But Ballard doesn’t do that. Realizing he is neutered by government bureaucracy that gives him the leverage to catch pedophiles while the child victims remain “out there somewhere” is a crisis of conscience for him. He heeds the call “not to hesitate” when called, leaves the Department of Homeland Security and teams up with some other players just outside the law to “go big or go home” in staging a faux “paradise island” as a method of entrapment for pedophile kingpins. A former cartel runner (who himself has his own dark reckoning with his past life and personal sin) and a well-financed entrepreneur form Ballard’s small vigilante operations team, and lead them to rescue over fifty child sex slaves in one sting.

There is another backstage hero in this film, however, and that is Ballard’s wife who fully supports this unorthodox mission: “You quit your job,” she tells him, “and you go rescue those kids.” With six kids of his own, and on his own deep in rebel territory in Colombia looking for a proverbial needle in a haystack (the sister of the first boy he rescues), this is no small act of faith on his wife’s part. There is no one looking for this poor Honduran girl. There is no incentive, no reason, no will. Except for Ballard, her fate would be sealed and she would be completely lost. He has everything to lose. I think his wife is as invested in his mission as Ballard is.

To see the panic of Rocio and Miquel’s father’s face when he returns to the “talent company staging room” to pick them up only to find it empty and his children missing is utterly heartbreaking and every parent’s nightmare. It is my own nightmare–not because it has happened to me, but because what’s to keep it from becoming my reality? It’s bad enough to know your children’s beds at home are empty, but to reckon with the reality that they are being hurt or abused in some way, and you are completely powerless to help them, is a thousand times worse. And this happens to tens of thousands of children–God’s children–every day, both at home and abroad. They are like lumps of coal, these victims, these child slaves, feeding the insatiable furnace of depravity that we perpetuate by our own complicity with sin. 

The sheer scale of this insatiable appetite for the corruption of innocent flesh is almost incomprehensible. The sins cry to Heaven for justice, and as Ballard quotes Matthew 18:6 in the film to one of the pedophiles “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and be cast into the sea.” 

And yet many of these lost children are never found, but remain chained in slavery of the most horrible kind, their innocence crucified on a tree at the hands of vile men. For every one that is rescued, hundreds remain in bondage. This has the potential to be a great challenge to one’s faith in a good and loving Father and in his only begotten Son who debased himself to come to earth and search out the one that was lost (Lk 15:4) when they remain out there, somewhere, in a dark room subjected to unspeakable traumas. 

And yet, “there is no one righteous, no not one” (Rom 3:10; Ps 14:3). Many of us are complicit in the sins of the flesh which have perpetuated this abominable slave ship, though–we fuel it not just with clicks and downloads, but by our apathy and fence-sitting in the face of such evil. Christ was utterly crushed by the weight of sin (Is 53:5)–our sin. He came to ransom us, left a comfortable Heaven to debase himself here on earth (Phil 2:7) and pay the price with his sacrifice and death (Rom 5:7-8). He was innocence itself (1 Pt 3:18).

I don’t know Tim Ballard’s back story, if he is a Christian or not, but I will say Jim Caviezel was the right man to play him in this role. When Tim is describing his “line of work” to someone in the film, he mentions that this reality (of sex trafficking) is “too ugly for polite company.” 

And that hits home. Sin is ugly and it is real, and Christ didn’t die on a cross in some removed, prim and proper manner amidst polite company. He was scourged and mocked, reviled with contempt and beaten to a pulp, among “bad men.” God “got his hands dirty” to ransom us from perdition, and sacrificed his son, his only begotten son, to do it. There was no other way to bridge that divide. And if we are to imitate Christ in his life as his disciples, we cannot sit balancing on a fence. We, too, are called to get our hands dirty, sacrifice, and pay ransoms to set captives free. Whatever capacity one does that is between him and God. But he cannot be passive, cannot be neutral. 

God bless Tim Ballard for leaving the ninety-nine to seek out the lost one, and God bless Jim Caviezel for taking on this role. The Sound of Freedom deserves our support, and not as a charity case either. Though I viewed the film through the eyes of a Christian, it is not an overtly or even remotely “religious” film. It is well shot, well acted, and is a compelling if not difficult watch; well worth a trip to the theaters to see. I hope this film goes mainstream and convicts the heart of those who view it–even if the subject matter is “too ugly for polite company.”   

This post originally appeared on Rob’s blog, Pater Familias.


Rob Marco is a married father of three. He holds a MA in Theology from Villanova University. He is the author of Wisdom and Folly: Essays on Faith, Life, and Everything in Between (Cruachan Hill Press, 2024) He blogs at Pater Familias.

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