Hard Miles movie review & film summary (2024)

The small facility where Townsend works is at risk of being shut down. The director, Skip (Leslie David Baker of “The Office”), thinks some good publicity from a hike might help them, with a story about “urban delinquents rehabilitated by tall trees and sunlight.” It’s hard to run away from a hike. But Greg insists it must be a bike trip. 

There are a few problems. First, they do not have bicycles. Second, with no experience and a group of known troublemakers, getting in trouble, getting hurt, or escaping seems inevitable. And third, no one wants to go, and the boys do not like or trust each other. But Townsend happens to be the teacher with the blowtorch who can teach them how to make their own bicycle frames and he has a friend who owns a bicycle shop to provide the gears and wheels. He persuades his colleague, Haddie (Cynthia Kaye McWilliams) to come along to drive the van that carries their gear. She is willing to provide support but understandably not willing to do the laundry. Synthetic bike shorts and tops worn over hundreds of miles through the desert should not be inflicted on anyone but the people who wear them.

Townsend wanted the young men to experience the grandeur of the Arizona and Colorado landscapes. He wanted them to learn what they could accomplish, and he wanted them to learn to be a part of something outside themselves. The best part of the movie is the insightful way it shows us that the young characters’ constant attacks on everyone around them are fueled by anger, fear, a loss of control, and a distorted idea of masculinity. They are so determined to insulate themselves from any hint of engagement with others that they jeer at everything, attacking before they can be attacked. We see that they hold on to anger, mistaking it, as young people do so often, for strength. But as individuals they are thinly characterized. We get a much better sense of the adults.

The film is even less effective in tying this to Townsend’s awkwardly inserted backstory. We see in flashbacks that his father attacked and beat him for having muscular and heart-related disabilities. Townsend gets repeated collect calls from prison. It is his brother begging him to see their father in hospice. It is possible that one reason he is so insistent on the trip is to have an excuse for refusing. When he finally gets on the phone, his father is so ill he cannot respond. Will Townsend leave the trip? Will the team be able to finish? Will they be willing to finish? 

This is not the kind of movie that surprises you with the answers to those questions, even though it tries to ramp up the suspense toward the end. But like the young men on the trip, we cannot help but be moved by the scope and beauty of the landscape and the dedication of the adults who see possibilities for teenagers after the rest of the world has given up.