Line of people riding bikes in a bike race.

Film Review: Hard Miles


Director: RJ Daniel Hanna
Pensé Productions
In Theaters 04.19

Making a formulaic feel good movie is a bit like riding a bicycle: once you know where you’re going, it’s easy enough, as long as you keep it steady and don’t trying anything too complicated. The fact-based drama Hard Miles makes for a smooth ride that gets from point A to point B with few surprises along the way.

Greg Townsend (Matthew Modine, Full Metal Jacket, Oppenheimer) works as a counselor at RidgeView Academy, a medium-security correctional school for juvenile offenders in Colorado. A fellow counselor, Haddie (Cynthia Kaye McWilliams, Bosch, Average Joe) is trying to recruit Greg to help supervise a backpacking trip for a group of students, but Greg has time scheduled for a cycling vacation, to enjoy the solitude of the open road. As the school faces cutbacks and needs to something tangible to demonstrate results, Greg conceives of a plan to combine the backpacking trip with his plans, securing sponsorship from Speedy (Sean Astin, The Goonies, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy), a local bike shop owner, and leading the group of boys in a peloton, cycling from Denver to the Grand Canyon. In the unforgiving desert terrain, the boys must learn to work as a team and face the choices of whether to keep going forward against all odds and take control of their own own destinies.

Hard Miles is a formulaic inspirational drama that follows a very familiar road, and it would be easy enough to write it off as feelgood drama if it weren’t for the fact that it’s so well done. Director RJ Daniel Hanna (Miss Virginia) keeps up the pace and moves the film forward steadily and purposefully. When you consider how much of the film, including the dialogue, takes place with the characters on bicycles, it’s a complex and impressive feat of direction that thankfully resists the urge to get too showy and try to reinvent the wheel with a lot of hyperactive gimmick shots. The script by Hanna and Christian Sander is intelligent and funny, and it avoids getting too preachy. 

Modine is a strong, likable presence in the lead role, playing Greg as stubborn and square, but with a big heart and an indomitable spirit. It’s great to see him in a leading role again, and he demonstrates that he can still command the screen. McWilliams adds strong support and gets some of the best comic relief moments, and the ensemble playing the boys of RidgeView make the most out of stock characters: Smink (Jackson Kelly) is the enthusiastic nerd, Woolbright (Jahking Guillory) is the angry tough guy who has real potential if he can stop shutting everyone out, Atencio (Damien Diaz) is the gang banger and Rice (Zachary T. Robbins) is the pudgy comic relief who is always hungry. The young actors have a lot of chemistry and make each character feel real enough to keep the audience emotionally invested in them.

Hard Miles is largely by-the-numbers filmmaking, yet it’s the kind of enjoyable crowd pleaser that will connect with audiences if it can only draw them past the explosions and CGI of larger releases. It’s a well-acted and heartfelt little movie that deserves to be seen. – Patrick Gibbs 

Read more feel-good film reviews here:
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