Heartbreak Ridge (1986) – Clint Eastwood

Clint Eastwood stars, produces and directs this love letter to the United States Marine Corps. and while fairly engaging, the film embraces stereotypes almost to the extreme at both ends, consequently the characters and tone of the film isn’t as balanced as it could be.

Eastwood plays the career marine, Gunnery Sergeant Tom Highway. He’s gungho, made the corps his life, sacrificing his marriage to Aggie (Marsha Mason) along the way. Now, with fewer days ahead of him than behind, Highway remains a hard-drinking, hard fighting marine who can’t relate to the world or the freedom he protects.

After one incident too many, he draws a reassignment back to his old base and company, Recon, where he will serve as Recon’s drill sergeant. Unfortunately, Recon is now a joke, and the marines in that unit are untrained, and uncaring. But Highway, with insults, quips and by being a living example, is determined to whip them into shape, even if causes the company’s commander, Major Malcolm Powers (Everett McGill) consternation.

While Highway may be a textbook marine, he has a harder time relating to those not in the life, and immerses himself in women’s magazines to learn how to better communicate with Aggie, and hopefully win her back.

His squad includes Mario Van Peebles as Stitch Jones who is the extreme opposite of Highway, despite having enlisted, and Peebles performance slides from solid to being in a completely different movie, though I don’t think that was his fault.

No matter where the story or characters go, the Marine Corps is the star of the film and Eastwood treats it with honour and dignity showing the trials and tribulations that go into shaping these men, while alluding to some of its history. I think Highway’s gruff voice persona is so close to a stereotype that the only thing that tells you that Eastwood isn’t being tongue in cheek is because of the earnestness of his performance.

But the way the world is portrayed outside the Corps suggests that Highway and possibly the director is just a little out of touch and step. Still, Highway’s ethical code is to be admired, as he demonstrates throughout the film as he supports his squad, and gets them into a fighting force that he can be proud of, even as he tries to figure out what to do with himself when his time is finally up.

Despite my complaints about some of the film, I quite like it, and it feels like both Highway and Eastwood are recognising they are getting older, and it translates nicely to the screen.

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