With its opening credits adorned with footage of warfare, the military drumbeat that plays over this footage feels almost inevitable. It is the proud man himself, Clint Eastwood, traipsing through the hell of war once again. He does it well, and Heartbreak Ridge showcases the effective qualities of heroism and what defines it. Great he may be at copying and pasting this style of story, his performances rarely waver in much difference. This collation of footage soon bleeds into the story itself, with a surprisingly natural feel to it. As the colour starts fading in, the comedy does too. Heartbreak Ridge, for all its tough characters and gritty stylings, has a strange humour underlining it all.
Eastwood must have known this. A script that pairs a tough as nails Marine with a spoilt bunch of soldiers offers Eastwood the chance to turn in a performance that mocks the masculinity of his previous roles and the genre on the whole by turning it up a notch. His gruff voice is gruffer, the war wounds on the face of Tom Highway (Eastwood) are ten times as horrible as they should be and the lack of respect people have for this all-American hero is tremendous. Eastwood is the same cool, calm and collected individual audiences will know and love, but with the added benefit of being utterly unhinged. But without this incredibly over the top bit of fun from Eastwood’s leading role, there is little else within Heartbreak Ridge worth focusing on.
Despite Eastwood throwing insults left, right and centre in a voice rather similar to the recent antics of Brett Goldstein in the comedy show Ted Lasso, the characters that surround Highway are too grounded to work. Fair it may be if Eastwood wishes to fixate on the fish out of water style, but when all these men are of a military background, it is harder to differentiate between them all, unless it is their personality that defines them, not the uniform. For Highway, that is not a problem. The man is quite clearly insane and we are better for it as he uses that mania as some form of character development and unnerving, but there is nothing to balance that. We are introduced to a troupe of individuals whose presence is either underwhelming, annoying, or both. Heartbreak Ridge never decides what to do with these characters, and in typical 1980s fashion, they all feel a bit fake and loose.
But it is all forgivable to see Eastwood’s war-scarred hero demand so little from so many so often. Heartbreak Ridge is not necessarily lighter than his other works, but it is certainly different. It flows more amiably, has less of a bite to it despite these darker characters, and above all, it is a relatively enjoyable experience. Eastwood is not yet at the stage of defining ordinary Americans as everyday heroes, but Heartbreak Ridge offers some early experimentation of self-pity and ribbing those roles and ideas that got him to the heights of his success. A nice blend, especially when Eastwood is left to his own devices, bleary-eyed on a bus to nowhere in particular, putting up with the white noise around him.