Heartbreak Ridge (1986)
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Written by James Carabatsos and Dennis Hackin (uncredited) and Joseph Stinson (uncredited)
Produced by Clint Eastwood
Firing locker room trash talk with the repetition and accuracy of a machine gun, Heartbreak Ridge is loaded with more R-rated one-liners than the careers of all the male action stars you could name combined. James Carabatsos wrote a first draft, which was doctored by the authors of the goofiest film Eastwood ever made (Bronco Billy) and the one with the greatest line of dialogue in action movie history (Sudden Impact), Dennis Hackin and Joseph Stinson, respectively. Greeted with dissent by some army veterans who maintained that the Marines never engaged Heartbreak Ridge and by a Marine Corps which did not square with the film’s language or Gunny Highway’s training techniques, Heartbreak Ridge may be trying to fit a size 12 foot into a shoe two sizes too small, but reality aside, it’s one of the more entertaining movies Clint Eastwood ever made.
The combat sequences — which utilize the U.S. military intervention in Grenada that the United Nations later voted illegal — are on auto-pilot, reflecting neither the terror of combat or hinting at any real consequences for the combatants. Heartbreak Ridge was the last in a line of war movies going back to John Wayne fighting Injuns in Fort Apache where the enemy was evil and when shot, went down like a bowling pin. For those able to cotton to the film’s outdated approach, its macho bluster is hard to resist. With an opening line of “I been pumping pussy since Christ was a corporal” the script never apologizes for being about a crusty Marine gunny and never lets up. Underneath lies a character that fits Eastwood’s screen persona like a glove, a man whose distaste for authority is matched by a loyalty to the ideals of that authority. Showing real signs of age, Eastwood gave what feels like the richest performance up to that point in his career.
In 1983, Marine Gunnery Sergeant Thomas Highway (Clint Eastwood) is allowed to walk away from drunk and disorderly charges — including urinating on a police car — due to his distinguished service in both Korea and Vietnam. Despite his contempt for authority and loose tongue, Highway is so gung ho about being a Marine that he earns a transfer back to his old unit: 2nd Recon Battalion, 2nd Marine Division in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Reuniting with a sergeant major (Arlen Dean Snyder) he survived a battle with at the so-called Heartbreak Ridge in Korea when they were army corpsmen, Highway runs afoul with Annapolis football hero Major Malcolm A. Powers (Evertt McGill) who’s displeased as much with Highway’s age and his record of insubordination, commenting, “Well I ask for Marines, the division sends me relics.”
The sloppy recon platoon Gunny Highway is assigned — “The Marines are looking for a few good men. Unfortunately, you ain’t it” — regrets the day they met him. This includes Corporal “Stitch” Jones (Mario Van Peebles), a loudmouth who ripped Highway off on the bus ride to Lejeune. Accustomed to serving as target practice for 1st Platoon, Recon is whipped into combat shape by Highway. He has less success rebuilding a relationship with his ex-wife Aggie (Marsha Mason), a barmaid who tired of waiting at home for Highway to return from whatever war zone he volunteered for. Termed an “0-0-1” by Powers — 0 wins, 1 tie for Korea, 1 loss for Vietnam — Highway gets a shot at redemption when the Marines are deployed to Grenada to free American medical students stranded by a Communist coup d’état on that Caribbean island.
Rotten Tomatoes “Tomatometer” average among 12 users: 83% for Heartbreak Ridge
Metacritic “Metascore” average among leading critics: Not available
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