Hard Miles (12A) |Close-Up Film Review

Dir: R.J. Daniel Hanna, US 2024, 108 mins

Cast: Matthew Modine, Leslie David Baker, Cynthia Kaye McWilliams, Jackson Kelly, Zack T Robbins, Damien Diaz, Jahking Guillory

Review by Carlie Newman

This is another ‘overcoming a bad background to reach success’ stories.  But it is well-directed by R.J. Daniel Hanna and has something new to say about this particular group of boys.  The film is based on the true story of Greg Townsend.

Greg Townsend (Matthew Modine) is a social worker in a youth facility for young offenders.

He tries to do all he can to help his young charges and encourages them to aim for the best for themselves.  While teaching a group of lads how to fix bikes he comes up with the idea of turning the group of difficult young criminals into a crew to ride their bicycles 762 miles to the Grand Canyon. First, he has to teach them how to ride and then – which is even more difficult – to train the four boys to work together as a team on the long arduous journey.

The director of the youth facility, Skip (Leslie David Baker) thinks the publicity will be good as the facility is in danger of being closed and he agrees to the bike trip. Greg persuades his co-worker, Haddie (Cynthia Kaye McWilliams ) to accompany the group as driver of the van.

As they ride along, the boys – all of whom have troubled backgrounds – learn to appreciate the environment and support each other. Along with teaching the delinquents skills for living outdoors, including lighting a fire, putting up a tent etc, Greg tries to encourage them to think about their own lives, face challenges and strive to be part of the world and lead a productive life.

Greg has his own problems to sort out. He constantly gets phone calls from his brother – who is in prison – pleading for Greg to visit his dying father who is in a hospice.  Greg’s father was abusive to him (which we see in flashbacks) and Greg is not keen to go and see him.

Everything seems to be going well finally until Greg collapses and can no linger continue the bike ride.  He has now to consider his health issues, his relationship with his father and return to the youth facility.  And the four lads have to work out their immediate future.  Should they continue the ride?

The boys are well depicted: Smink (Jackson Kelly), Rice (Zack T Robbins), Atencia (Damien Diaz) and the most difficult one, Woolbright (Jahking Guillory) interact well together and we see them developing away from their former delinquency and bonding together.  The minor character are also well-acted and Matthew Modine is completely convincing as Greg, the dedicated social worker.

Good photography shows us the lovely scenery they pass through.