The controversial anti-sex trafficking film is storming the US box office

July was a massive month for movies.

Barbie pulled in more than $US1 billion ($1.56 billion) and her more emotional cousin Oppenheimer is standing at more than $US700 million worldwide.

And now there’s another film that’s rocking the US box office — a ‘based on a true story’ conservative action drama called Sound Of Freedom.

Despite being partially crowdfunded and distributed by tiny streaming company Angel Studios, it has now made more money in the US than the highly anticipated Indiana Jones and Mission Impossible sequels.

But its historic box office run has been marred with controversies and connections to conspiracy theories.

Sound of Freedom opened in Australia on Thursday, August 24.

Here’s what you need to know before you head to the cinema. 

What is Sound Of Freedom about?

The film revolves around Tim Ballard, the founder and former CEO of anti-trafficking non-profit Operation Underground Railroad.

Sound of Freedom follows a fictionalised Ballard (Jim Caviezel) as he works for the Homeland Security Investigations.

Pushed to his tipping point by sex traffickers, film-Ballard eventually goes rogue, travelling across the world to rescue the sister of a little boy he saved from trafficking earlier in the film. 

 Jim Caviezel stars as Tim Ballard in Sound of Freedom.
 Jim Caviezel stars as Tim Ballard in Sound of Freedom.(Supplied: Angel Studios)

Is Sound Of Freedom a true story?

Sound of Freedom proudly touts that it is ‘based on a true story.’

And while it is correct that Ballard has done anti-trafficking work, the film is a fictional narrative — Kristen Abrams, senior director of combating human trafficking at McCain Institute, Washington says.

“Even the individual at the centre of the movie would tell you that a significant portion of that movie is not true,” Ms Abrams told ABC’s Religion and Ethics Report Podcast.

“The second half of the movie is not true.”

Sound Of Freedom portrays Ballard travelling to Colombia to rescue children that were abducted by strangers. Ms Abrams says this is not reflective of what trafficking looks like in the real world.

“There are portions of the movie that glorify extrajudicial killings, that glorify raids where one individual goes in to try to rescue a child for trafficking — none of that is true,” she says.

“What we know though is that the overwhelming majority of children know their trafficker and they find themselves in the situation because of other dynamics. Whether they were in the child welfare system, experiencing homelessness, or their parents were in dire economic circumstances.” 

How has Sound of Freedom performed at the Box Office?

It has performed extremely well.

According to BoxOfficeMojo, Sound Of Freedom has grossed $US181 million ($282 million) in the US since its release on July 4 against a $US14.5 million budget.

That’s more than Indiana Jones and The Dial Of Destiny ($US174 million) and Mission Impossible — Dead Reckoning — Part One ($US168 million).

Angel Studios CEO Neal Harmon recently said the film has made so much that the thousands of online backers that crowdfunded the film had been paid out $1.20 for every $1 they invested.

And this is just in the US, Sound of Freedom will hit 21 international markets — including Australia, New Zealand and the UK —  before September 1. Of Freedom trailer

What is the controversy around Sound of Freedom?

Besides the accused factual inaccuracies, a number of controversies and conspiracy theories have followed the film since its release.

Lead actor’s QAnon connections

The film’s star Jim Caviezel has previously endorsed elements of the QAnon theory — namely that trafficked children are being drained of their blood.

In 2021, Caviezel made an appearance at the Health and Freedom Conference in order to promote Sound Of Freedom.

Caviezel used his virtual talk to warn listeners that trafficked children are also the victims of “adrenochroming”.

The false theory that a cabal of elites are torturing children in order to harvest their adrenaline for rejuvenate properties.

Cavielzel doubled down on these claims later that year at the QAnon-associated For God & Country: Patriot Double Down convention in Las Vegas.

Most recently Caviezel appeared on former Donald Trump advisor Steve Bannon’s podcast to talk about the supposed phenomenon.

Trump has also been a vocal supporter of the film, holding a private screening at his New Jersey golf club.

In attendance were Caviezel, Bannon and Tim Ballard.

In announcing the screening, the Trump team accused “liberal media” of refusing to review the film.

Sound Of Freedom writer-director Alejandro Monteverde has tried to distance the film from his star’s comments — telling Vanity Fair that he began writing the project “two years before QAnon emerged”.

“There’s people that are too close to the film that are in politics,” he said.

“So it’s like, I love you, but I have to keep my distance.”

Film backer charged with kidnapping

In early October, Missouri man Fabian Marta was arrested and charged with accessory to kidnapping.

Marta was also one of the thousands of people who invested money when Sound Of Freedom was in its crowdfunding stage.

‘Fabian Marta & Family’ appears in the film’s credits along with over 6,600 people who also backed the film.

Cinema conspiracy

In July, a conspiracy began to circulate online that US cinema chain AMC was sabotaging the film.

The theory was the AMC was deliberately disrupting air conditioning, lighting and stopping the film playing in order to suppress showings of Sound of Freedom.

AMC CEO Adam Aron refuted the claims on Twitter.

Sound of Freedom distributor Angel Studios later released a statement that disavowed the conspiracy saying, “AMC has been an outstanding partner for Angel Studios”.

‘Nanobots’ in drinks

In July, Canadian comedian Andrew Neville posted a tweet indicating that there were ‘nanobots’ in the drinks of Sound Of Freedom viewers.

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“I work at AMC and just got fired for refusing to add this liquid to a customer soda,” the tweet’s text reads.

“We were instructed specifically to serve this to Sound of Freedom audiences. I am a microbiology student and took it to the lab to examine and sound (sic) what looks like nanobots inside.”

Social media users quickly accepted the joke as reality.

“Watch yourself people,” warned an Instagram user who shared the misleading screenshot, along with the hashtags #tyranny, #dictatorship, #deepstate and #illuminati, among others.

Mr Neville confirmed to the Associated Press that the tweet was a joke and that he isn’t a AMC employee.

What do the reviews say?

Sound of Freedom is currently sitting on 67 per cent on Rotten Tomatoes indicating a middling response from critics.

Variety‘s Owen Gliberman gave it a positive review while acknowledging the controversy that surrounds the film.

“You needn’t hold extreme beliefs to experience Sound of Freedom as a compelling movie that shines an authentic light on one of the crucial criminal horrors of our time,” he said.

The New York Times‘ Glenn Kenny gave it a more critical review, questioning the ethics of some scenes, “in which actual child actors perform being prepped for provocative pictures by adult groomers.”

Rolling Stone‘s Miles Klee trashed the film, calling it, “A stomach-turning experience, fetishising the torture of its child victims and lingering over lush preludes to their sexual abuse.”

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