“Sound of Freedom”: From scandal to cinema success

In the USA last summer there was no way around the blockbusters “Oppenheimer” and “Barbie”, jokingly merged into “Barbenheimer”.

“Sound of Freedom”: From scandal to cinema success

In the USA last summer there was no way around the blockbusters “Oppenheimer” and “Barbie”, jokingly merged into “Barbenheimer”. But initially quietly and shortly afterwards no longer at all secretly, in their slipstream a third film blossomed into a surprising box office hit: the low-budget thriller "Sound of Freedom", shot by Alejandro Monteverde (46) and co-produced by Mel Gibson ( 67). The bizarre thing: Of all things, a scandal surrounding the film, which opens in this country on November 8th, made it a huge success in the USA.

Tim Ballard (Jim Caviezel, 55, "The Passion of the Christ") is a special agent for Homeland Security and leads a grueling fight against international child and human trafficking. When he rescues little Miguel (Lucás Ávila) from Honduras from the hands of unscrupulous child traffickers, he learns that his sister Rocío (Cristal Aparicio) is still in the hands of criminals. He quickly quits his job and travels deep into the Colombian jungle, where a life-threatening mission awaits him.

The box office results of “Sound of Freedom” were downright fantastic in the USA at around $184 million. For comparison: Neither "Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One" (172 million US dollars) nor "Indiana Jones and the Wheel of Fate" (174 million US dollars) made the box office ring that much, although they were far more expensive were blessed with a larger budget.

But at a certain point, this success had little to do with the supposed quality of the film and its plot also faded into the background. Rather, a bizarre dynamic of its own developed around the film with serious and important, but not new, themes. Films such as the German-American co-production “Trade - Welcome to America” with Kevin Kline (76) had already taken up this topic. It also shows the merciless brutality with which human trafficking rings operate and how the perfidious mechanisms work in the background.

In the case of “Sound of Freedom,” however, right-wing conspiracy theorists suddenly called for a culture war. The accusation was that the political opposing side was trying to stop people from going to the cinema. Videos of angry visitors claiming that cinema operators had intentionally turned off the air conditioning during "Sound of Freedom" performances or were faking other technical problems flooded the internet. Even Donald Trump (77) got involved and, like some other QAnon screamers, said: As a real patriot, it is your job to see this film! And that's exactly what millions of people who continue to support their one and only US President did.

However, the applause from this camp didn't please the director at all: "It was heartbreaking to witness all this polemic and controversy. My instinct was to run away. To hide," he told the industry site "Variety." His film was exploited for the wrong purposes. Monteverde asserts: "During the development, research and writing of the story, there was not a single discussion about politics. And why? Because politics should take a back seat when it comes to freeing children from the clutches of human trafficking."

But it is also a fact that two very important people from "Sound of Freedom" agreed to this questionable conspiracy canon: the main character Caviezel and the real Ballard, whom he embodies. Both also attended a screening of the film initiated by Donald Trump and thus supported its politically motivated narrative. "There are people who are too closely associated with the film and are playing politics [with it]," as director Monteverde put it.

In Germany, however, "Sound of Freedom" is more likely to be perceived as what its creators say it is: an independent film with a serious, well-intentioned message. Nothing more, nothing less.