Film Review: 23 Blast

by Sam Robinson

Rated PG-13. Starring Mark Hapka, Stephen Lang, Alexa PanaVega, Max Adler. Directed by Dylan Baker.

Please don’t be confused: 23 Blast is not a fan speed setting. It’s a football term.

It’s actually based on a true story, where high school student and small-town football star Travis Freeman (Hapka) suddenly loses his eyesight from a nasty bacterial meningitis infection. 23 Blast documents his struggles with adapting to life without sight, all the while not giving up on his dream to continue playing football. As you might imagine, this film’s push is about overcoming obstacles and pursuing dreams. And you never know, he might even get the girl (PanaVega) along the way.

23 Blast is a movie chasing the faith audience, but only just. Most of the faith ‘discussion’ during the film is left to a cross on a necklace belonging to Travis, which he begins the film with, and discards with bitterness following his loss of sight. There’s no mention of Freeman’s faith other than through this symbolism, which is a shame considering his real-life story shared in closing the credits. It might be a small spoiler, but it is revealed that during high school Freeman wanted to become a church minister. I think to see Freeman aim for a future of more than just the football field would have been a great addition to the story.

Not all the performances are great, although Hapka should be commended for his portrayal of Freeman. I was convinced that he was blind, and struggling to adjust to life without sight! I was disappointed that most of the students looked way too old to be in high school. I was reminded of the many self-referential jokes during 22 Jump Street about the age of the lead characters, but this was no gag.

‘I don’t know why things like this happen to good people.’

Perhaps the thing that hit me hardest about 23 Blast was the scene where Freeman returns to school for the first time since losing his vision. He is initially treated as an outcast, yelled at by a teacher as if he is hard of hearing, and stared at by many. It’s impactful and convicting – and I felt sad that I’ve treated people like this before out of fear of awkwardness.

When Jesus came to earth, he read a piece of Isaiah in the synagogue which prophesied about his mission, and he stated that the piece of scripture was fulfilled that day. Luke 4:18-19:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,  because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

As Jesus reads this, he is claiming that he is God, and he is claiming that he has come for the poor. And part of his mission is to make the blind see again. And it’s true that Jesus did heal the blind physically, but even more than that, he helped the lost see the truth of who God is. He allowed people to see himself as the Son of God, and many put their trust in him.

Watching 23 Blast reminded me of this. Although Freeman’s physical sight was lost, he was still able to see who Jesus is and turn to him in trust. This isn’t made explicit in the movie, but the coda proves this to be true. Jesus allowed Freeman to see who he is clearly – sight or no sight.

23 Blast is no masterpiece, but it tells a true tale of a man who persevered through hardship and is now blessing people with his story. I’m giving it two stars.

23 Blast is screening now in cinemas in the USA.

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