Heartbreak Ridge (1986)   3/53/53/53/53/5


Clint Eastwood as Gunnery Sergeant Tom Highway in Heartbreak Ridge (1986)

Take the Highway and head Eastwood to Heartbreak Ridge

For all its faults, and there are plenty of them, I have always really enjoyed Clint Eastwood's "Heartbreak Ridge" with its almost parody styling of military training and less than subtle comedy. But it's not what you would call classic Clint Eastwood either from an acting point of view or as director. But what it is, is often daft, often over the top and all very 80s making it fun even when it is just being stupid

Having once more found himself thrown inside for his hard living and drinking, much decorated Gunnery Sergeant Tom Highway (Clint Eastwood - Pale Rider) finally gets his wish and is re-assigned back to his old unit at Cherry Point, North Carolina to train new Reconn recruits. But between a bunch of lazy no good Marines intent on trying to break him and superiors who dislike Highway's old school style and blatant disregard for their authority it's not easy. Matters are compounded when he meets up with his first wife Aggie (Marsha Mason - The Long Shot) and his feelings for her are not as requited as he hoped.

Arlen Dean Snyder and Mario Van Peebles in Heartbreak Ridge (1986)

For a movie which is over 2 hours long "Heartbreak Ridge" doesn't really have a lot of storyline and what there is all seems a little cliche. So once we get the set up where we meet bad ass Gunnery Sergeant Tom Highway in a jail cell regaling all those around him with his stories of battles it soon also becomes apparent that we have an old style marine, who does things his way and pisses off his superiors when ever he does. And so it continues, reassigned to where he started life as a marine we then have Highway taking on the role of gruff platoon leader, knocking into shape a bunch of slackers whilst still pissing off his superiors, who despise Highway's flagrant breaking of their rules. And just for good measure tie in a semi romantic element with Highway trying to sort things out with his true love, his first wife who divorced him.

That all sounds pretty cliche and it is supposed to be because "Heartbreak Ridge" is a sort of a parody about life as a marine. It's not an all out comedy parody such as "Stripes" or "Private Benjamin" but it does take delight in taking stereotypes and making them larger than life. So Gunnery Sergeant Tom Highway as the platoon leader is the toughest, nastiest leader you have ever scene, the lazy platoon are the most lazy bunch you will have ever seen and Highway's superiors are the biggest bunch of brown nosers going. It basically comes across as a purposefully larger than life drama, with a stereotypical storyline which sees Highway gain the respect of his men through training and action providing the drama.

As such there are many funny moments, the opening scenes which see Highway beating the shit out of another, bigger criminal in jail then calmly sitting down to carry on telling stories is amusing. That same sort of amusement carries on through out especially when it comes to Highway's disregard for his superiors who think they know it all yet have never seen action. Some of the jokes fail, Mario Van Peebles as Corporal 'Stitch' Jones (the ayatollah of rock and rolla) ends up being too comical and the various music scenes with him are just far too corny for words, but for the most the comedy, the parodying of military training works making you smile more than laugh.

But the trouble is that whilst amusing with such fun as the reoccurring training scenes, and morning runs, at 130 minutes "Heartbreak Ridge" is far too long. Part of the issue is that whilst the majority of the movie focuses on Highway banging heads and knocking his platoon into shape for the last half an hour we get an additional storyline which sees them heading off to rescue captive Americans on an island. It feels almost like a separate movie and is not only rushed but too corny for words. Basically this final half hour spoils the movie and makes it feel dragged out and too long.

As for Clint Eastwood who not only acts but also directs, well it's a fun performance from him, playing a different character but with all those tough traits he has built up over years playing such characters as Harry Callahan. It's by no means classic Clint Eastwood, in fact it's quite forgettable Clint Eastwood but it's always nice to watch Eastwood throwing in a bit of comedy and as the nastiest, over the top drill sergeant ever and he certainly does deliver plenty of amusing scenes. Even those semi romantic scenes as he tries to rekindle things with his first and true love are amusing, especially when he babbles on about relationships having read things such as nurturing each other from women's magazines in an attempt to understand women.

Whilst it's not classic Eastwood he does give the best performance in a movie which also features Mario Van Peebles as Corporal 'Stitch' Jones, Eileen Heckart as Little Mary Jackson, Marsha Mason as Aggie and Moses Gunn as Staff Sergeant Webster.

What this all boils down to is that "Heartbreak Ridge" is often misunderstood as it is intentionally cliche and borders on a parody of the whole marine/ nasty drill sergeant set up. It's not a great movie, really just adequate but it's also good fun with all it's over the top characters and scenes, especially Eastwood who plays one of the most comically nasty drill sergeants to have graced the big screen.


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