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  Heartbreak Ridge My Way Or The Highway
Year: 1986
Director: Clint Eastwood
Stars: Clint Eastwood, Marsha Mason, Everett McGill, Moses Gunn, Eileen Heckart, Bo Svenson, Boyd Gaines, Mario Van Peebles, Arlen Dean Snyder, Vincent Irizarry, Ramón Franco, Tom Villard, Mike Gomez, Rodney Hill, Peter Koch, Richard Venture, Peter Jason
Genre: Comedy, Drama, WarBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 2 votes)
Review: Gunnery Sergeant Thomas Highway (Clint Eastwood) is in jail overnight again for drunken brawling, and while he's in the cell he's regaling the other prisoners with tales of his war experiences one large man takes exception to him and challenges him to a fight. Highway has been fighting all his life and it doesn't take much for him to overpower his latest adversary and the next day he is up before the judge who lets him off with a fine, but gives him his final warning: no more drink-fuelled punch-ups or else. He has a new post to go to, the base where he began his training all those years ago, so surely he'll be able to reach retirement age in peace?

Seems as if Clint Eastwood has been defying his age ever since about 1980, proving to the moviegoers of the world that he still had what it took to be one of the biggest stars of all time, and would endure. In Heartbreak Ridge it was written into Vietnam War veteran James Carabatsos's script that his character would be about to quit his life in the Army because he was too old, not that this would prevent him from outrunning all those young whippersnappers in the rest of the cast. The message here is that the more advanced in years you are, the wiser you are and in Highway's case the tougher you are if you're a Marine.

Eastwood is helped immeasurably by some truly hilarious one-liners, showing that Highway could have made a great standup comedian; he could certainly have dealt firmly with any hecklers. Informing anyone who will listen that, say, "I can put a round in a flea's ass at 200 metres!" definitely raises his standing amidst the other soldiers, even if his new platoon have had it so easy up till now that they are extremely sceptical Highway will do them any good. The implication is that the pampered modern life in the eighties has made men soft and weak, so it takes an old dog to teach them some old tricks about surviving when push comes to shove.

Despite their protests, the marines are whipped into shape and end up being the best on the base, although the Major, Powers (Everett McGill), resents Highway and would like nothing better than to see him cut down to size. Naturally, the feeling is mutual, and the sergeant doesn't even bite his tongue around the major, as if he were too venerable to bother with anything as namby pamby as good manners. Where he does tread carefully, however, is with his ex-wife Aggie (Marsha Mason) who he is trying to get back together with, even going to the extent of reading women's magazines to understand more about relationships.

Yet the real love story here is between Highway and his marines, especially Corporal Stitch (Mario Van Peebles), a budding rock star, sort of a wisecracking Prince, who meets him on the road and makes the mistake of tricking his future sergeant into missing his bus to the base. There is a lot of antagonism between these two, though nothing too meanspirited, and their bond ends up being more convincing than the one between Highway and his ex, which unlike most of the film's clichés creaks like an old gate in the breeze. By the end the soldiers have been despatched to Grenada to gun down Cuban forces (and liberate their cigars), thus proving that Highway - and Ronald Reagan - were right all along and they have become superb fighting machines. Like Full Metal Jacket the next year, the humour carries it, but unlike that film, the U.S. Army here is nothing but beneficial. Eastwood knew his audience, and gave them what they wanted here with great style. Music by Lennie Neihaus.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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Clint Eastwood  (1930 - )

Becoming a superstar in the late 1960s gave Clint Eastwood the freedom to direct in the seventies. Thriller Play Misty for Me was a success, and following films such as High Plains Drifter and The Outlaw Josey Wales showed a real talent behind the camera as well as in front of it. He won an Oscar for his downbeat Western Unforgiven, which showed his tendency to subvert his tough guy status in intriguing ways. Another Oscar was awarded for boxing drama Million Dollar Baby, which he also starred in.

Also a big jazz fan, as is reflected in his choice of directing the Charlie Parker biopic Bird. Other films as director include the romantic Breezy, The Gauntlet, good natured comedy Bronco Billy, Honkytonk Man, White Hunter Black Heart, The Bridges of Madison County, OAPs-in-space adventure Space Cowboys, acclaimed murder drama Mystic River, complementary war dramas Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima and harrowing true life drama Changeling. Many considered his Gran Torino, which he promised would be his last starring role (it wasn't), one of the finest of his career and he continued to direct with such biopics as Jersey Boys, American Sniper and The Mule to his name.

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