I'm a huge fan of this film as I remember seeing it in the theatres and also seeing it on VHS many, many times. This is a film that can either strike you as a 'made for TV movie' or a very serious piece of film about military life that hasn't been this accurate in a long time.
The main thing to know about this film is that:
1. It has some of the best and most incredibly imaginitive military dialouge ever put on screen.
2. There is a strange realism in this film about the true nature of being a human being while also being a soldier that is grossly absent in just about every other war film ever made.
I would love to quote some of the dialogue, but Amazon forbids a person from placing expletives in a review. However, maybe I can just bullet point some of the big scenes to watch out for, or listen to when you watch this. It starts:
1. Gunny Hiway (Eastwood) is in a jail cell story-telling, surrounded by other convicts, drunks and punk kids. An altercation ensues between Hiway and would-be Motorcycle gangster. Hiway hurts the guy pretty bad and probably hurts his ego more than the man's body.
2. After being released from jail by the judge, Gunny Hiway is accosted by the arresting Sherrif. Wow. Classic film dialogue.
3. While Sleeping on a Greyhound Bus, Gunny Hiway shares a beer with 'Stitch Jones' (Van Peebles)
4. Gunny Hiway meets, haranges and demoralizes his new Recon Platoon all in a fast moving three minutes which is powerful.
5. Going to meet his ex-wife at her new job as a waitress in a bar (owned by her new boyfriend), Gunny Hiway gets into a direct altercation with this guy who offers to wrap a wooden bat around his head and Hiway offers to 'bend him over and nail him in the keester' (good grief - it get's gripping right here for sure).
6. Meeting his men once more in th eearly morning before a run and demoralizing them by name.
7. The false deployment scene where Hiway utters the now famous word on film: Clusterf ...
8. Any scene where Gunny Hiway and Sgt. Major Choozoo laugh and growl about what they've done. Classic.
The strongest aspect of this film is the dialoge and it's no misunderstanding, when you read the script, which I have, why Eastwood not only chose to star in this film but also Produce and Direct it. What's interesting is that when you examine this film and Eastwood's career, one can easily surmise that it was this film that possibly made Eastwood direct more and have a tighter control over his projects ever after. Had he made that decision before hand, this probably would've had the culteral impact of a 'Shawshank Redemption'. A year later though, Kubrick's 'Full Metal Jacket' premiered, supposedly setting the standard. I think it lowered it actually, even though it's an epic and masterful piece of film. It's a subtle point, but an important one. Heartbreak Ridge doesn't romanticize Marine Corps life as badly as many other films out there.
While Heartbreak Ridge really is a good film, and not just a good movie (notice I said it's a film and not a movie, which is a big difference) some of the things that really lay waste to it, is obviously the third act, which sends them into action in the historical retelling of Grenada, rather than just honestly documenting military life, which is what the true story of this film is and should've stayed focused on.
Some of the characters come across thinly and pretty much the same as some of the others, failing to stand out. Some of Van Peebles scenes in this are honestly unwatchable and cringe-worthy, while some are very gripping. It's inconsistent, and one the first things the viewer notices. 'Stitch Jones' strikes this viewer as an attempt to be a vehicle for Van Peebles to do other movie work, and insincere. Historically, for a short period of time, it seemingly was, as he did a handful of movies directly after this, none of which really stood out. I'm sure he'd disagree though.
Marsha Mason's character 'Aggie' isn't really given her moment to shine in this, but you can almost feel that it's just about to explode across the screen. Unfortunately, we never seen this because either it was never written and shot (which I doubt) or it never made it past the editing because of run-time (which I can believe). The relationship between the hardened, aging Marine and the military wife is incredibly touching, very deep and without need of exposition. Eastwood probably never had a woman on screen with him with so much workable chemistry before or after. Just saying. It comes across as a missed opportunity.
You can tell that there are musically a few touches of Eastwood in this, but not many. One wonders why such a possibly monumental film just really fell apart, whether it was in the planning, the writing, production, or post-production, we'll never know. Honestly, though, I wish I did. The DVD offers no documentaries, commentary, extras, deleted scenes, nada. A lot of people loathe that stuff, but I eat it up.
I really adore this film for the realism that it conveys about military life. Nothing is romanticised, nothing is exaggerated, the uniforms are spec and mannerisms are accurate. I applaud the production people or the military liason to this film and woven into this wonderful film, that unfortunately - and ultimately fails - is an incredibly honest telling of military life. Failed relationships, failed deployments, failed expectations and aspirations, failed careers, failed engagements, all of it.
Military life, for a lot of people who go in and serve 2,4 or 8 years, experience this as an indelible transition in their lives that effects them ever after. Gunny Hiway serves as the Boatman through this for both the young men he's entrusted to train, and for us, the observer. You leave this film with much more than you go in with.
I actually find this film to be Eastwood's most memorable, as it seems as though his cold stare and gravelly voice were made specifically this film and this film alone.