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Overall Rating

Awesome: 18.18%
Worth A Look: 9.09%
Pretty Bad: 18.18%
Total Crap: 0%

1 review, 5 user ratings

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Heartbreak Ridge
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by Jack Sommersby

"A First-Rate Eastwood Elevates the Material"
3 stars

Fans of Clint will find several things to like here, but they'll have to slog through a few negatives in this overlong star vehicle.

Clint Eastwood gives one of his best performances as Gunnery Sergeant Thomas Highway, of the United States Marine Corps, who finds himself near mandatory retirement and ten years into an unresolved midlife crisis in Heartbreak Ridge, a sometimes-engaging, oftentimes-lackluster movie that's just worth recommending. The screenwriter, James Carabatsos, a military veteran himself who wrote the underwhelming Heroes (with Henry Winkler and Sally Field) and the colorfully entertaining No Mercy (with Richard Gere and Kim Basinger), knows how to write creative dialogue, but his story construction here is practically nonexistent, and he trots out so many tired cliches without putting much in the way of fresh spin on them that he wears us out with well-worn familiarity by the one-hour mark. (Does he think we haven't seen a movie of this type before?) Highway is one of those dyed-in-the-wool types who could've been a five-star general by now but whose checkered history of insubordination and off-the-base drunk-and-disorderly conduct has held back a once-promising career. As the movie opens, he's in a city jail for having drunkenly urinated on a squad car the night before; and he's busy telling his old war stories to his cellmates when challenged by a military-hating giant of a man -- no biggie, for Highway, after warning him ("I can put a round in a flea's ass from two-hundred meters. I eat concertina wire and piss napalm. So go hump someone else's leg, muttface, before I push yours in"), delivers a couple of colossal uppercuts and calmly sits back down to finish his story. A judge respectful of his service to his country gives him a mere one-hundred-dollar fine, and his fed-up superior who wants him gone gives him some good news: Highway's requested transfer to a unit he was once kicked out of has been approved; he wants to spend his remaining year training a reconnaissance platoon of recruits to be "heartbreakers and hearttakers." But it's not going to be smooth sailing, of course. His commanding officer is a myopic, warmongering martinet recently promoted from Supplies, and the platoon is made up of incompetents who've been slacking since their previous commander took early retirement. Added to which, he tries reconnecting with his ex-wife who's working as a cocktail waitress in a bar owned by the Marines-hassling owner, and though he's taken to reading women's magazines like "Bazaar" to better understand the other half of the species, darned if he isn't always saying all the wrong things at all the inopportune times. Yet he ultimately whips the platoon into shape, shows up his boss for the fool that he is in front of the company brass, and winds up winning over the ex-wife forgiving of his shortcomings.

At ten minutes past the two-hour mark, Heartbreak Ridge is episodic, shapeless. Eastwood, who also directed, doesn't install much in the way of pace and tempo into the proceedings: he's very generous with the actors in giving them the aesthetic space to make suitable impressions; but it's also his job to streamline things so the scenes fluidly segue with momentum, and the movie is forever lurching forward without much assurance. His previous effort, the flawed but compelling western Pale Rider, had some dead spots, but its story line had more immediacy and was more consistent in tone, whereas the mixture of comedy bits and domestic drama here are like oil and water. The training sequences played for laughs are second-rate stuff compared to the hilarious bits in Ivan Reitman's Stripes, The Great Santini etched a much more incisive portrait of Marine-husband/worrying-wife relations; and in the movie's biggest misstep, its entire action finale revolves around the ho-hum invasion of Grenada, which might as well be an invasion of Dubuque for all the lackluster interest derived from it (I know Eastwood is a feverish Reaganite, but still...). Luckily, there are numerous compensations. Jack N. Green's naturalistic lighting is robust, Edward Carfagno's immaculate production design never makes you doubt the seriousness of the intent, and Lennie Niehaus's music score is dependably dexterous. Then there are the superb contributions from Marsha Mason, making the most of the ex-wife role, Moses Gunn, getting a real camaraderie going with Eastwood as Highway's longtime military buddy, and, especially, Mario Van Peebles, as the rebellious leader of the platoon with aspirations of becoming a rock-and-roll star. But the movie would be next to nothing without Eastwood's superlative work as Highway. With a growling, raspy voice and a remarkable physique at the age of fifty-six, Eastwood takes what could have been a two-dimensional caricature and makes something of a classic out of it. He savors Carabatsos's dialogue like a hungry man devouring Steak tartare ("Sergeant, you get that contraband stogie out of my face, 'fore I shove it so far up your ass you'll have to set fire to your nose to light it"), and uses the power of both inflection and phrase to accentuate his juicy lines; but he also brings unexpected warmth and tenderness into his scenes with Mason -- those who missed his interesting work as the sexually-frustrated cop in Tightrope two years prior will likely be brought up short by his nuanced, deeply-felt work. You may not be disposed into giving Heartbreak Ridge much in the way of sterling approval, but Eastwood's undeniably got all "the right stuff."

"M*A*S*H" this isn't; watchable, it is.

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originally posted: 08/03/13 22:33:33
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User Comments

2/13/17 morris campbell enjoyable Eastwood was great 4 stars
8/23/15 The Big D Major Powers was the most likeable character. 2 stars
8/05/13 SniperSarge Eastwood makes you want to be a Marine. 5 stars
8/04/13 Charles Tatum One of Eastwood's best 5 stars
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  05-Dec-1986 (R)

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  18-Dec-1986 (R)

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