Rich Hill

Movie review by
S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media
Rich Hill Movie Poster Image
Gut-wrenching docu about children living in poverty.
  • NR
  • 2014
  • 93 minutes

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Kids say

age 17+
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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

The featured families face a near-constant uphill battle that often leaves them demoralized and defeated.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Despite the adversities that threaten to overwhelm him (poverty, constant relocation, a pill-addicted mother), Andrew tries to look at the bright side, has enormous empathy for his family members, and cares deeply for his sister's welfare. Harley has undergone a lot of trauma but is committed to maintaining ties with his incarcerated mother. And Appachey tries to find joy in skateboarding.


Some of the young people in this documentary harbor deep reserves of anger that sometimes erupt in loud, expletive-laden arguments and physical confrontations, though the fights take place off screen and are later discussed on screen. One character's mother is in prison for a violent crime, and he's shown messing with knives. Child molestation plays a key role in one storyline and is often discussed in general terms, though without any specific/graphic details.


Adults, as well as teens and tweens, swear frequently, including "s--t," "f--k," and "ass," as well as phrases like "shut up."


Several well-known fast-food chains and consumer products are seen or mentioned as the cameras capture the subjects' lives, including Pizza Hut, Dr. Pepper, Monster Energy Drink, Burger King, and Wal-Mart.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Many of the people in this documentary smoke throughout the film, including several teens and tweens, who often smoke cigarettes at home with their families. A few scenes feature adults drinking beer. One parent appears to be dependent on sleeping pills (and is later felled by an overdose that's described but not seen).

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Rich Hill is a grim, unflinching, yet empathetic look at three boys living in poverty in a small Missouri town. The kids come from varied backgrounds, but they all face similar challenges, largely as the result of unstable family and financial conditions. Some of them are very angry about the hand that's been dealt to them, and they sometimes react violently, triggering fights that mostly take place off screen. Expect plenty of swearing, including kids who use "f--k" and other profanity, as well as a lot of smoking by both teens and adults. There's also drinking by adults and references to child molestation.

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What's the story?

Andrew, Harley, and Appachey all live in RICH HILL, Missouri, a town so downtrodden that you have to wonder whether it's ever seen better days. The three boys, ages 12 to 15 at the start, haven't had too many themselves, their lives swallowed whole by poverty and neglect. Nobody rests easy, nobody wants for nothing, and the film allows them to air their troubles freely and in detail. For other kids their age, homework might be the biggest challenge of the day, but these young people must deal with incarceration, unemployed or pill-addled parents, and abuse. As the filmmakers follow them for the better part of a year, they reveal their hopes and heartbreaks, their stories bearing witness to a continuing cycle of poverty.

Is it any good?

Quietly powerful and deeply affecting, Rich Hill lets three boys bear witness to their difficult lives as they slowly open up and reveal the daily battle of their lives. Director Tracy Droz Tragos goes for the straightforward approach, allowing the boys to tell their own stories and eschewing overbearing narration or fancy data points. What we see is what we get, and what we get is a punch to the gut by reality.

It's sometimes difficult to sit through; prepare for heartache as people struggle to get through each day and find out how little is under their control. Just when you think one of them might catch a break, when something seems to be going right, everything takes a turn for the worse. We see Andrew's impressively upbeat attitude fade, while Appachey's not-always-under-control hostility threatens to hurt him. And Harley, the oldest of the group, gradually reveals the horrific event that broke his family, one from which it's unclear whether he'll ever recover. Rich Hill may be hard to watch, but it's important to do so.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Rich Hill's perspective on poverty and those who must grapple with it every day. Did you learn anything from watching? How could you act on what you learned?

  • What do you think about the kids in this film? How are their lives similar to each other? How are they like or unlike your own?

  • What do you think about Andrew's optimistic attitude? How does it change through the course of the film? How are Harley's sometimes violent reactions linked to his mother's crime? Why is she in prison?

  • How does poverty shape people's lives in the short and long term?

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