Hard Miles (2023)

Movie Info

Movie Info

R.J. Daniel Hanna
Run Time
1 hour and 44 minutes

VP Content Ratings

Sex & Nudity
Star Rating
★★★★4.5 out of 5

Relevant Quotes

 I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleanness, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.  A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you, and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.  I will put my spirit within you and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. 

Ezekiel 36:25-27
The 4 boys and coach in training (c) Bleecker Street Media

This is a “based on a true story” film of redemption that will leave you feeling hopeful that redemption can come to seemingly hopeless youth—and also leaving you with a sense of awe at the grandeur of Nature. Director R.J. Daniel Hanna (also co-writer with Christian Sander) offers us a good family film that could fit into one of my favorite genres, The Caring Teacher—except that Greg Townsend (Matthew Modine) is a social worker at a Colorado’s Rite of Passage’s Ridge View Academy, a medium-security correctional school in Colorado, is the protagonist.

Greg believes, as we see in an opening scene at another prison facility, that we should never give up on a youth, that they always deserve second chances. A biking enthusiast, Greg believes in taking the youth for bike trip outside the facility. ”If they see the bigger world, they can want to be a part of it,” he says at one point to a colleague. His recipe for this is to form a team of student and take them on what he calls the Tour de Grand, a 762 mile bike ride from Colorado to the Grand Canyon. A bit of humor is injected when his colleagues call it a “1000 mil ride” and Greg corrects them (several times), “762 miles.” (I’ve noticed that even several critics mistakenly call it a “thousand mile ride.)

Skip Bowman (Leslie David Baker), the director of the academy, is skeptical, but is persuaded by the possibility that the project will generate some good news for the facility. He can use it because funds are always scarce and the place is in danger of losing its charter.

Greg assembles a team consisting of four inmates, Smink (Jackson Kelly), Woolbright (Jahking Guillory), Atencio (Damien Diaz), and Rice (Zachary T. Robbins), all unruly and skeptical of the project—but at least it gets them outside their confinement. Greg teaches welding at the academy, so he involves the youth in building their own bikes from parts he scrounges from local bike shop owner known by the nickname of Speedy (Sean Astin). Greg even persuades a company to sponsor the team by donating uniforms.

The trip is filled with drama and humor—one biker has problems reading a map, and another refuses for a long while to wear his uniform. Greg has recruited his colleague Haddie (Cynthia Kaye McWilliams) to come along to drive the van that carries their tents and camping gear. She is not a happy camper because the back back trip she was to lead had to be canceled due to her foot injury. She tells Greg,  “Only in this job would someone think that a 1,000-mile bike ride is a vacation”—and of curse, he corrects her.

Greg has many problems to solve, and gets very little rest at night because he is the last to retire and is up before anyone else to prepare their pancake breakfasts. One of the teens, Smink, has an eating disorder, so getting him to eat anything taxes Greg’s persuasive skills. It also leads to arguments between Greg and Haddie, the latter, with a psychology degree, believing she can better handle the boy. The kids also refuse to launder their uniforms that smell after a hard day’s ride, and thus Greg assumes this duty as well. During the early days of the ride, the boys become easily fatigued and thus quarrelsome. This event is no picnic for anyone, Greg in particular.

Slowly, though, as the days of spectacular scenery pass and the boys toughen their bodies, their attitude changes. The day that the recalcitrant teen emerges from his tent clad in his uniform signals that they truly are becoming the team that Greg has hoped they will become.

There are no villains in this story, but there is lurking close by the dark shadow of Greg’s broken relationship with his abusive father. Through flashbacks and conversations we learn how awful his childhood was, resulting in his refusal to have any contact with the old man, even though now he is on his deathbed and Greg’s brother Doug, incarcerated in a distant prison, has been calling to beg him to come and see their father before he passes.

When Greg at last gives in, he must leave the team to carry on with just Haddie driving behind them. This leads to a moral decision on the team’s part—should they follow the lead of one of them who wants to bypass the Grand Canyon and go to a town where they can escape their confinement by taking a bus back to their home, or continue their mission. What happens will warm your heart as Greg returns and finds not all share his goal. The ending, truly an awesome one, reminds me of on of my favorite films, Grand Canyon in which a group of L.A. urban dwellers speak about visiting that site.

Greg may or not be a believer—there is no mention of religion in the film—but what the ancient prophet said about Israel getting a “new heart” and “a new spirit” is what he is trying to do for the four boys in his charge. He is a wounded healer in the sense that his own relationship with his abusive father still festers, and he has but a short time to deal with his father before the old man dies.

With good performances by everyone—Modine is especially memorable as the coach with his own problem to resolve—and gorgeous photography, the film is suitable for family viewing. Parents with young children watching need be wary of some of the swearing that earns he film its PG-13 rating. A good film for a youth group to watch and discuss issues of getting along with others and redeeming past mistakes.

 This review is in the May issue of VP along with a set of questions for reflection and/or discussion. If you have found reviews on this site helpful, please consider purchasing a subscription or individual issue in The Store.

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