Monday, May 21, 2012

"Heartbreak Ridge" recalls some Reagan-era military history

Not all of Clint Eastwood’s films (as directed) are as original as some of the more recent ones.

For example, “Heartbreak Ridge” (1986, Warner Brothers, Malpaso, recently aired on AMCTV as part of its War Heroes series) has Eastwood playing a Marie Gunnery sergeant tasked, after some misadventures, for shaping up a weak unit at Camp Lejeune.  For a good part of the film, he seems a bit like a drill sergeant with draftees.  But the time period of the film is 1983, as the unit then gets called to fight “Cuban” insurgents and rescue medical students held hostage in Grenada.

The Lejuene scenes have mountains, which in real life they could not.  In fact, the scenery looked more like Camp Pendleton than Camp Lejeune.

The Grenada episode was an early military success for Ronald Reagan, and it may have helped set the tone for the tough stance that would eventually lead to the fall of the Berlin Wall and even the entire Soviet Union, only eight years after Vietnam had fallen.  (Kennedy, remember, had started out with the Bay of Pigs and wound up with a Cuban Missile Crisis.) Yet, the episode is now largely forgotten.
This was done with a volunteer military (since Nixon's action in 1973), although there had been talk of resuming the draft after the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and the Supreme Court had actually upheld male-only conscription. And just before Reagan took office, in early 1981, the “absolute ban” or Old Policy against gays in the military had been instituted.

The unit cohesion issues in the film remind me of the early scenes of “A Few Good Men” (1992), with Tom Cruise, where Jack Nicholson played Marine commandant at the old Guantanomo who authorized a “code red” – a bullying or hazing exercise by unit mates to bring a non-performing trooper into shape.  The concept sets a bad example for young people in the larger society. 

Here is Clint Eastwood’s own assessment of his 1986 film.

Warner Brothers rents the film “legally” on YouTube for $1.99. 

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