“It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.”
— Luke 17:2
Tim Ballard could have looked the other way with the excuse “you can’t save them all,” and he would have been chillingly correct. With an estimated 2 million children trafficked across the globe each year in the commercial slave trade, what could one man do in the face of such a pervasive and insidious evil? Wouldn’t it be foolish even to try?
But Ballard didn’t look the other way. Nearly a decade later, over 6,000 victims of human trafficking, many of them children, have been rescued by Operation Underground Railroad, the organization Ballard founded. Ballard’s fateful decision to face down the horrors of human trafficking has now been brought to life in the film “Sound of Freedom.”
Starring Jim Caviezel (Passion of the Christ, The Count of Monte Cristo) the film is a harrowing tale based on the true story of Ballard’s early independent efforts to rescue enslaved children through undercover sting operations. Though the film’s pacing plods a bit at times, not exactly a great quality for a genre thriller, the acting is both engaging and believable, anchored in Caviezel’s brooding intensity and subtle emotional portrayal of Ballard, as well as stellar performances by supporting actor, Bill Camp (Vampiro,) and child actors Cristal Aparicio (Rocío) and Lucás Ávila (Miguel.)
The film opens with a shot of a little girl, Rocío, right before her abduction into the world of sex slavery. We see Rocío through her bedroom window, banging out a rhythm on a single drum as she sings a beautiful yet haunting melody through variations of the single syllable “na, na, na.” We later see Rocío teaching some of the other enslaved children this same song. When those children are rescued by Ballard’s team, but Rocío remains missing, the freed children begin singing the song she taught them. Upon hearing the emancipated children carry the tune, a colleague remarks to Ballard, “That’s the sound of freedom.” When Rocío is eventually saved by Ballard and returns home, the movie ends with the same shot of her through her bedroom window, patting out the same rhythm on her drum and singing the same melody, “na, na, na.”
Yes, “Sound of Freedom” is a tale of good and evil where the good guys win. Yet, hanging over their victory like a song carried on the wind is the horrific thought of how many more children are still in need of rescue. This is where “Sound of Freedom” is at its best: when it vividly suggests what remains unseen but all too real.
We do not see the child pornography that Ballard is required to watch as part of his federal law enforcement efforts, but we do witness the fictional Ballard watching those videos as well as the unmistakable horror in his eyes.
We do not see rape, torture, or murder of children, but we do witness the casual callousness of sexual predators ready to buy and sell the most innocent little ones among us as though they were disposable livestock.
Most people don't wish to witness the darkest corners of human depravity. A brush with abject malevolence tends to leave scars that never fully heal, so most rightfully remain wary of the darkness, choosing to look the other way.
Yet, sometimes men decide they must face down evil, come what may. Sometimes, men burn with righteous abandon and turn towards the darkness with their souls lit aflame, sprinting on the edge of a precipice like fools flirting with folly. Yet these men do not fall; instead, they prove to be the heroes who first shone a light on the darkest shadows of man’s nature.
“Sound of Freedom” isn’t a masterpiece, but it is a well-crafted clarion call to awareness and action in the face of the horrors of human trafficking in the 21st century.
God bless Tim Ballard for not looking the other way.
Joey Clark is a native Alabamian and is currently the host of the radio program News and Views on News Talk 93.1 FM WACV out of Montgomery, AL M-F 12 p.m. - 3 p.m. His column appears every Tuesday in 1819 News. To contact Joey for media or speaking appearances as well as any feedback, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to Commentary@1819news.com.
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