‘Hard Miles’: This inspirational cycling story is worth an easy trip to the movie theatre

“Hard Miles” (2024) – Rice, Atencio, Smink, and Woolbright.

These four teens have walked hard miles.  Their long journeys of bad decisions and misfortune led them to reside at Colorado’s Ridge View Academy, a school for troubled teenagers.  It’s where arguments and fist fights break out more frequently than acne, as the young men posture for position to get through their days.  Still, Ridge View isn’t heartless.  Counselors like Greg (Matthew Modine) and Haddie (Cynthia Kaye McWilliams) march to the beat of a well-intentioned drum, but verbal altercations with the kids wear on their rhythms. 

To help reach Rice (Zachary T. Robbins), Atencio (Damien Diaz), Smink (Jackson Kelly), and Woolbright (Jahking Guillory), Greg Townsend, an avid long-distance cyclist, convinces Haddie and their boss, Skip (Leslie David Baker), to let him lead the quartet on a “Tour de Grand,” a 762-mile bike ride from Ridge View to the Grand Canyon. 

Skip is skeptical and calls the idea “hoods in the woods” and “redeeming the irredeemable.”  Haddie has her doubts, but she rides along with Greg and the boys by driving an accompanying van packed with tents, supplies, and food. 

Director/co-writer R.J. Daniel Hanna prepares “Hard Miles” for the big screen, an inspiring tale based on a true story. 

It’s a movie about grit, teamwork, perseverance, and empathy. 

Hanna and Christian Sander’s screenplay spends a large majority of the 108-minute runtime on the road (and a noticeably abbreviated number of minutes to prep for the said trip), where the guys joust with one another and fight against the system, which (during this trip) consists of Greg and Hanna.  As one might expect, they learn life lessons and emotionally grow over who-knows-how-many days. 

“Hard Miles” has a similar vibe as “McFarland, USA” (2015), a satisfying sports movie in which Jim White (Kevin Costner) leads a high school cross-country team in a working-class California farming community.     

The silver-haired, 6’ 3” Modine, 65 years young, is perfectly cast as he demonstrates Greg’s athletic gifts and command of the sport but also exudes physical and emotional vulnerabilities.  Greg carries a couple of serious ailments that impede his 24/7 freewheeling cycling lifestyle.  He also cares about these kids but constantly balances his altruism versus the flush realities of reaching them through discipline.  Thankfully, Haddie provides a figurative scale and doubles as his conscience when he tips too far in one direction.  McWilliams’ warm and frank performance delivers a comforting blanket of female energy and another voice for Greg and the young team.

Deep down, just about every adolescent needs defined boundaries whether adults want to forge them or not, and “Hard Times” confirms the benefits of doing so. 

While also contending with injuries and teenage attitudes, the film delves into Greg’s lifelong struggle with his father that comes to a head – through horrible timing – with the Tour de Grand.  Hanna communicates Greg’s relationship with his dad through flashbacks and childhood trauma, a theme explored more often on the big and small screens in recent years.  Frankly, these flashbacks and Greg’s ever-present strife with his dad don’t seem necessary through the first two acts, but Hanna and Modine deliver an affecting sequence in the third. 

Make sure you have tissues nearby. 

“Hard Times” is a positive, role-model film for teenage boys and girls, but for boys in particular, especially when they have recently fallen behind in education versus their female counterparts and are having trouble defining masculinity in the modern world.  Robbins, Diaz, Kelly, and Guillory all give commendable performances as teenagers living on the edge without a net, and all four of the characters’ arcs feel authentic.  The story flushes out more of Smink’s and Woolbright’s emotional excursions, but these four young men form a faithful peloton as the actors seamlessly absorb themselves into their troubled teen roles. 

Visually, Hanna and cinematographer Mack Fisher capture – seemingly – 1,000,000 glorious frames of the rugged and harrowing landscapes throughout the 762-mile trek, as audiences will hope for an extended look-see at one of the planet’s seven wonders.   This critic won’t reveal the end, but either way, “Hard Miles” is worth an easy trip to the movie theatre.

⭐ ⭐⭐ out of ⭐ ⭐⭐⭐

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