The Last Full Measure, 2020.
Written and Directed by Todd Robinson
Starring Sebastian Stan, Christopher Plummer, William Hurt, Ed Harris, Samuel L. Jackson, Jeremy Irvine, Peter Fonda, Bradley Whitford, Alison Sudol, John Savage, Diane Ladd, Linus Roache, Max Gail, Byron Mann, Michael Imperioli, Zach Roerig, Amy Madigan, LisaGay Hamilton, Cody Walker, Ser’Darius Blain, Dale Dye, Travis Aaron Wade, James Jagger, and Richard Cawthorne
Thirty-four years after his death, Airman William H. Pitsenbarger, Jr. (“Pits”) is awarded the nation’s highest military honor, for his actions on the battlefield.
Someone on the Internet recently suggested that war movies serve no purpose because history isn’t going to change and that the stories always end the same way. Obviously, that statement is asinine (just another day on the Internet, really), but The Last Full Measure has come along at an appropriate time to unintentionally function as both a solid movie and retort to that ridiculous notion. This isn’t so much a straight-up guns-and-glory action epic (although there are flashback sequences that expand on the past and present) but a study of just how war psychologically damages its victims in different ways.
30 years removed from the Vietnam War, Airman William H. Pitsenbarger (as played by Jeremy Irvine during the massacre on April 11th, 1966) has yet to receive a Medal of Honor despite demonstrating unfathomable heroism, throwing himself into the line of fire serving as both fighter and medic for his allies in the midst of a situation that was pretty much FUBAR before it even began. Based on a true story (absolutely with liberties taken, given the extreme sentimentality on display which unfortunately diminishes how effective the film could have been), William’s father Frank (Christopher Plummer) is slowly dying of a terminal illness, meaning the family and acquaintances (he didn’t even know the men he saved) of the fallen soldier (who did indeed perish during that horrifying battle) are stepping up putting the pressure on Washington to do the right thing, review the paperwork, and posthumously bestow upon him the most revered accolade any American servicemember could ever be awarded.
Department of Defense lawyer Scott Huffman (Sebastian Stan) is tasked with the assignment, which he initially views as beneath him, but tackles anyway as his job stability is currently fluctuating due to some shakeups. Much like the random person on the Internet I referenced earlier, Scott doesn’t seem to fully grasp why this matters, although slowly begins to as he goes around interviewing the individuals associated with William during that bloody battle. Yes, it’s simplistic and straightforward character development, but that’s fine. The real characters worth exploring are the veterans; the ones with stories to tell.
Even if this does make for a somewhat repetitive narrative structure, all of these characters were affected by William’s actions differently and have their own personal forms of PTSD following the Vietnam War. Boasting an ensemble cast with iconic faces such as Samuel L. Jackson, Peter Fonda, Ed Harris, and more, The Last Full Measure shows us the humanity of these people. One is incapable of sleeping at night, another feels like a failure for not having the courage to deliver a letter, and one of them even feels directly responsible for placing William into the situation that led to his eventual death. Some of them are miserable but still able to interact with their own families, whereas others are just flat-out miserable and unable to properly function in day-to-day life. As they reflect on what happened, the details of the battle also evolve with new revelations, which is just enough to keep it interesting as the start-and-stop presentation of the war violence generally prevents it from ever reaching great intensity.
Scott’s quest for justice (he grows more attached to the case and people as he progresses, putting him at odds with one of his coworkers as played by Bradley Whitford) takes him all the way to Southeast Asia, essentially in the location the battle took place. Without spoiling it, what a specific character has done to the area (also give credit to writer and director Todd Robinson for bringing the locale to life), is a thing of beauty. It’s the contemplative moment that transcends The Last Full Measure beyond its mushy feel-good tone into a genuinely thoughtful piece of work regarding the many ways lives are lost and reshaped following the horrors of war. The sentimentality eventually becomes overbearing during the final 20 minutes, but in another way, the melodrama feels earned. Peter Fonda is best in show with a scene towards the end that is absolutely devastating, succinctly summing up why these stories need to continue to be told.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com