Dylan Baker is known for his various roles in television and film. Namely, his role as Colin Sweeney in The Good Wife. Most recently he was J. Edgar Hoover in the film Selma. Many will remember him from other films like Anchorman 2, Secretariat, Spider-man 2 and 3, as well as Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.
Baker has added director to his IMDB list of achievements with 23 Blast. In the film, Baker also fills the role of Larry Freeman, the father of Travis Freeman whose real-life story Baker brings to the screen. Travis (Mark Hapka) is the high school football star who keeps up his grades and helps his mom, Mary (Kim Zimmer) keep the concession stand stocked.
His best friend is Jerry (Bram Hoover, who co-wrote the film with his mother, Toni). The differences between the two are striking. Where Travis follows through with the coach’s calls, Jerry can’t remember them. While Travis turns to the cross (which he wears around his neck and kisses before the game), Jerry turns to the bottle, drinking in the bed of his truck on school property.
Travis’ life takes an unexpected turn when he suffers from an infection that destroys his optic nerve, which leaves him blind. When he returns home he is lost. He listens to loud music on his headphones, leaves dirty dishes lying around, and doesn’t change clothes for a few days. Patty (Becky Ann Baker, the director’s wife) is a no-nonsense social worker who has been assigned to be Travis’ mobility coach. Travis refuses to go see her. Mary, despite Larry’s thoughts, supports her son’s decision.
Patty is one of those people who doesn’t understand “no.” Patty continues to show up each day at Travis’ house challenging him to “get up off his sorry little can and figure out how to whip this.” Travis accepts the challenge. It’s not long before Travis wants to go back to his high school.
One afternoon after school, Travis is sitting in the stands with his friend Ashley (Alexa Vega) during football practice. Ashley calls the game for Travis. Travis ends up offering Coach Farris (Stephen Lang, Avatar) decent advice. Later, in his office, Farris is deep in thought clicking a lamp on and off. As the light flickers, Farris has an epiphany. Travis can still play.
It’s a significant scene in the film. It inspires and motivates. It does not cause groaning as it has in other inspirational films, being overly played. Instead, it’s a wink; a nod; a subtle hint that Coach Farris has had an “aha” moment that leads to other such moments in the film.
From there, we see Travis (and those around him) face the things that challenge them. For Travis it is sight, for his mother it is fear. One by one the different characters follow Travis’ lead to facing those challenges, finding the courage to face them, and overcoming.
The entire movie was filmed in Corbin, Kentucky, where Hoover was a freshmen when Travis Freeman was a senior. Fred Thompson appears for a brief moment as the retiring high school coach. Baker gets good performances from the whole cast, making it a plain ole good football movie.
While most likely intended for a faith-based audience, Baker delivers a film that is light on the sermonizing, yet offering inspiration to those who are facing crisis. Baker’s film and Travis’ story reminds us that in the midst of our storm, our blindness, we too can see through the eyes of faith.