A Film About Child Trafficking Takes on Summer Blockbusters

“Sound of Freedom,” a thriller starring Jim Caviezel as a federal agent who takes on child traffickers, will not be the summer box office’s biggest hit. But it may be its unlikeliest.

The film — whose distributor, Angel Studios, has a big success with “The Chosen,” a streaming series about the life of Jesus — was the third most watched film in North America last weekend. Its $19.7 million weekend take was behind only the horror film “Insidious: The Red Door,” which made $33 million in its first weekend, and “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny,” which made $27.4 million in its second.

“Sound of Freedom” is based on a true story: Caviezel plays Tim Ballard, a U.S. Department of Homeland Security agent who investigated pedophiles. (Ballard later founded the anti-trafficking group Operation Underground Railroad, became a frequent guest on Fox News and was appointed by former President Donald J. Trump to a federal advisory panel on human trafficking.)

Some critics say the film appeals to the QAnon movement, which posits a false conspiracy theory accusing progressive elites of pedophilia. The Guardian called it a “QAnon-adjacent thriller.” A Rolling Stone article said that its “mainstream accessibility makes it valuable as a recruitment tool.” In an interview, Neal Harmon, Angel’s chief executive, said: “Anybody who watches this film knows that this film is not about conspiracy theories,” adding, “it’s not about politics.”

Caviezel, who played the title role in Mel Gibson’s 2004 film “The Passion of the Christ,” seemed to allude to QAnon while promoting the film on the podcast of Stephen K. Bannon, saying “there is a big storm coming,” a movement motto, and mentioning “adrenochrome,” a hormone that QAnon adherents say elites harvest from their child victims.

A representative for Caviezel did not reply to a request for comment. Nor did Operation Underground Railroad.

Though not explicitly faith-based like other Angel projects — including the “The Chosen” and “His Only Son,” a recent film about Biblical patriarchs — “Sound of Freedom” stands as the latest instance of an entertainment industry success story that targeted an audience that is often overlooked by Hollywood.

The film, which was independently produced for $14.5 million, has grossed more than $41 million from its domestic release on Tuesday, July 4, through last weekend, according to Comscore. Unusually, it made slightly more on Sunday than Saturday, a Comscore media analyst said. Angel Studios’ unorthodox “Pay It Forward” program, which lets supporters go online to purchase tickets for those who might otherwise not see the film, may have helped. So might its emerging status as a political football: championed by the right, reviled by left-wing critics.

Angel, which is based in Provo, Utah, relies on crowdfunding to boost its projects. More than 7,000 “angel investors” raised $5 million in exchange for revenue-sharing to help market “Sound of Freedom,” the company said.

“We believe that the model of the Hollywood gatekeeper system, of selecting content, doesn’t choose the content that people want to watch,” said Jared Geesey, Angel’s senior vice president of global distribution.

The producer of “Sound of Freedom,” Eduardo Verástegui, and its director and co-writer, Alejandro Gómez Monteverde, hail from the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, Verástegui said in an interview, and most of the financing came from Mexican backers. It was filmed in 2018. Its original distributor, Fox Latin America, dropped it after Disney acquired 21st Century Fox in 2019. (A Disney spokesman said the studio never knew about the film.) It was picked up earlier this year by Angel, which describes itself as a values-based studio.

Verástegui, the producer, acknowledged the polarization around the film. He, too, promoted it on Bannon’s podcast. But he said he hoped political differences could be shelved in favor of the movie’s anti-trafficking message.

The film, which is a little over two hours, does not mention specific QAnon tenets. Hitting many typical action-movie beats, it depicts trafficking and related problems like child sexual abuse imagery as stark and growing, and suggests thatthe international wealthy are among its consumers. Its featured actors include Bill Camp and Mira Sorvino in a small role as Ballard’s wife.

During the credits, Caviezel addresses the audience, saying the filmmakers hope “Sound of Freedom” will be “the ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ of 21st century slavery.” He adds, “We believe this movie has the power to be a huge step forward toward ending child trafficking.”

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