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’23 Blast’: Tackles Faith on the Gridiron [REVIEW]

The sports-themed film tells the true story of blind high school football star Travis Freeman.
Mark Hapka in 23 Blast

23 Blast is the latest faith-based sports drama to hit the big screen. The film, inspired by real-life events, follows the story of Travis Freeman, a high school football star from a small town in Kentucky who saw his life come to a screeching halt after an eye infection permanently stole his sight. What followed was a story of courage, faith, friendship and the will to overcome that will leave audiences inspired long after they’ve left the theater.

The movie, directed by Dylan Baker and starring Mark Hapka, Alexa Vega and Bram Hoover—who helped pen the script—achieves this goal despite lacking some of the benefits of other sports-themed films with big studio backings. Don’t worry: there’s plenty of football to love in this film—down-to-the-wire motivational speeches, Hail Mary plays and tough-as-nails coaches all make an appearance when the camera’s focused on the field.

But what makes 23 Blast really stand out is the commitment of its lead actors and their obvious investment in doing justice to the real Travis Freeman’s tale. Hoover, the actor who plays Freeman’s troubled, heart-breaking best friend, Jerry Baker, hails from the same town as Freeman and admitted he felt the pressure when co-writing and starring in his friend’s incredible story. “There’s a greater responsibility when you’re telling a true story,” Hoover told Guideposts.org at the movie’s premiere. “There is a lot more responsibility to tell things the right way.”

Hapka took on that responsibility with a humbled sense of determination in his portrayal of Freeman. Carrying the film on his shoulders, the audience journeys with Hapka as he transforms from popular school athlete to disabled recluse and, eventually, hometown hero; his performance is comical and often tear-jerking, as it should be.

Vega gives the film heart, playing Freeman’s best friend Ashley, whose goal of getting her friend to push past his disability and get back out on the gridiron is one you’ll root for. The director’s wife, the fantastic Becky Ann Baker, also makes an appearance in the film as Freeman’s mobility coach who doles out tough love and compassionate encouragement in equal measure.

For his part, Freeman acknowledged that while the film does take certain liberties with his story, it does a good job of sending his desired message. “It’s not the Travis Freeman story, but it is a movie inspired by events in my life,” Freeman told Guideposts.org.

The film stays true in its depiction of the importance of Freeman’s faith-life, because “It’s a huge part of Travis’s life,” Hoover shared.  “It’s the thing that kept him going. God had a plan for Travis so we definitely wanted to show that in the film.”

Freeman, who makes an appearance in the film, is happy with the result. “It really does a great job of capturing the spirit behind my story.”

It’s that spirit that Hapka predicts will stick with people after the credits roll. “I hope that people who are having hardships in their own lives, that have their own limits that they put on themselves, whether it’s because of a disability or whatever, that it helps put things in perspective,” Hapka said. “I hope that they leave motivated.”

23 Blast is out in theaters now. 

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