THE LAST FULL MEASURE ½
2020, R, 116 mins.
Samuel L. Jackson as Takoda / Sebastian Stan as Scott Huffman / Jeremy Irvine as William Pitsenbarger / Christopher Plummer as Franky Pitsenbarger / Bradley Whitford as Carlton Stanton / Ed Harris as Ray Mott / Michael Imperioli as Jay Ford / Diane Ladd as Alice Pitsenbarger / Linus Roache as Whit PetersWritten and directed by Todd Robinson
THE LAST FULL MEASURE is an earnest and noble minded Vietnam War themed fact based drama that's unfortunately mired by some lackluster creative discipline and execution.
It tells a story
that absolutely should be seen, that of war hero William H. Pitsenbarger,
who personally saved over sixty men during one of the U.S. campaign's
deadliest days on April
nickname) took matters into his own hands and - without any orders to do
so whatsoever - left his rescue chopper and put his own life on the line
to ensure his comrade's safety.
He tragically died in the process, and was up for the Medal of
Honor, which was unceremoniously downgraded to the much lower ranked Air
Force Cross due to - at the time reported - insufficient records as to his
THE LAST FULL
MEASURE details the arduous and uphill battle - thirty-plus years later -
to get Pitsenbarger the Medal of Honor that he rightfully deserved in the
hearts and minds of those that he saved.
The fact that this soldier was not even supposed to be on the
ground, let alone leave his rescue helicopter, on the day in question is
testament enough to his unwavering gallantry, and a cruel reminder of all
of the short-sighted and frankly imbecilic bureaucratic
actions back home
that sidestepped his deeds altogether and swept them under the rug.
As a tale of undocumented valor finally being given its due public
credit, THE LAST FULL MEASURE has the makings of a powerful war drama in
showcasing the survivors - ravaged by decades of guilt - making the
decision to come out and join the cause to ensure their fallen brother
receives the proper accolades.
The film is backed by an extraordinary ensemble of multiple Oscar
nominated and winner actors, many of whom give rock solid performances
that give the proceedings here some much needed dramatic weight and
Regrettably, writer/director Todd Robinson's handling of this
material is of the TV-movie-of-the-week variety in terms of being well
meaning and sincerely derived, but fairly pedestrian and soft pedaled for
the most part.
Set mostly in
1999 with a lot of semi-awkwardly inserted flashbacks to the Vietnam War in
April of 1966 (more on that in a bit), THE LAST FULL MEASURE is less about
Pitsenbarger himself than it is about Pentagon staffer Scott Huffman
(Sebastian Stan) and his valiant attempts to find the dead solider some
Huffman is a determined and ambitious Senator that wants to elevate
himself above his low level status, and early in the film when he's given
the Medal of Honor investigation request made by Pitsenbarger's BFF on the
battlefield (a stoic and strong William Hurt), he dismisses it with
mocking indifference; it's a petty roadblock assignment on his way up the
Huffman starts to whistle a different tune, though, when he starts
to dig a bit deeper, especially in the form of testimonials from
Pitsenbarger's kindly parents (the late Christopher Plummer and Diane
Ladd), with the father hoping something can be fast tracked soon before he
succumbs to cancer.
Huffman then gets a wealth of new details from the other surviving
soldiers of April of '66, including Takoda (Samuel L. Jackson), Burr
(the late Peter Fonda, his last role), Kepper (John Savage), and Mott (Ed
Harris) - I mean...what a cast!
The more dirt Hoffman digs up the more he begins to realize
that a vast decades-long governmental conspiracy has been afoot to deny
Pitts his MoH, leaving Hoffman having a vast change of heart of his
Of the good
things that THE LAST FULL MEASURE does is in its putting of multiple
anguished faces on the map of a deeply polarizing war and chronicling how
Vietnam has left them with years upon years of physical and emotional
There have been many Vietnam War films that have dealt with
post-traumatic stress, but THE LAST FULL MEASURE is more about survivor
guilt that's spawned from that.
The film also wants to relay a generation's worth of
collective anger in vets that have felt that the American public and
government have all but forgotten them and their sacrifices.
Again, it's the rich and fully lived-in performances that win the
day here, whether it be in the nicely underplayed turns from Plummer and
Ladd to the unfathomable levels of internalized hurt that Hurt brings to
his beleaguered vet. Then there's also Jackson's nuanced turn as Takoda
(who, at first, takes a disliking to Hoffman, then gradually opens up) and
the very meta casting of Savage (who famously appeared in the Nam centric
THE DEER HUNTER).
My favorite performance, though, is from Fonda as his still shell
shocked soldier that hasn't slept a day in 32 years due to his experiences
back in the war.
A worse actor would have played this role up to broad stereotype,
but Fonda thanklessly plays him with complex layers that teeters between
relatable resentment and deranged madness.
Having said all
of that, the film does a disserve to the Hoffman character himself (who is
a composite character, based on what I've read) when it comes to
authentically portraying his enlightenment arc to the deeper truths of how
the government has subverted the truth of what Pitsenbarger did all those
Hoffman follows a familiar and mostly preordained story trajectory
(a staunch non-believer turned into a true believer and champion of the
truth), but his transformation doesn't feel as organic as it should have
That, and Stan (a good actor when given the right material) is kind
of bland and lacking conviction in the role.
This brings us to Pitsenbarger himself, who's portrayed in a
multitude of flashbacks by Jeremy Irvine, which pepper the story with
details here and there about him, but we never really grow to learn who
this guys is, where he came from, and what led to his motivated choices
that saved all of those souls in the war.
He's a hero, to be sure, but we only get second hand accounts of
this man that try to develop him, which has the negative side-effect of
making this persona come off more as a mysterious cipher to be unlocked
than a fully realized and well developed protagonist.
The more I watched THE LAST FULL MEASURE the more I began to ask
myself why a whole historical war drama simply wasn't told about him from
nature of the script doesn't help matters either, and Hoffman's jumping
back and forth in time is, during many points, chaotic and confusing in
terms of character dynamics and plot particulars (also, many of the young
performers look nothing like their older counterparts, leading to even
more visual confusion).
I also think that Hoffman trudges overboard in the third act in terms
of going for methodical sentiment, hoping to move us to no end and elicit
multiple tears from audience members.
The dramatic manipulation here - and some clunky, would-be
heartrending dialogue - seems a bit stilted and forced, and during a
section of the film where a more less-is-more restrained approach to the
underlining material would have worked wonders.
Lastly, I'm not sure what this film desires to say about the Vietnam
Obviously, this is a drama about correcting governmental wrongdoing
in regards to a war vet, but THE LAST FULL MEASURE is stuck in simple
minded jingoistic mode, asking us to respect its remarkably courageous
soldiers (and they do deserve such respect) while simultaneously turning a
blind eye to many of the more questionable aspects of America's
involvement in Vietnam.
It creates this weird moral disconnect in the film that's hard to
THE LAST FULL MEASURE is awfully hard to sharply scorn.
The film's heart is most definitely in the right place in shining a
spotlight on Pitsenbarger, his actions, the people he rescued, and the
aftermath of injustice that came in the war's wake to give this man the
proper commendation for his incomparable acts of pure heroism.
And the dream team actors gathered together here more than make
this film watchable.
Yet, THE LAST FULL MEASURE was dumped in cinemas pre-pandemic back
in January to little or no fanfare or marketing push, later to fizzle into
That ironically mirrors the tale of Pitzenbarger himself.
THE LAST FULL MEASURE is a laudable effort, but it nevertheless
struggles to find a truly worthy and compelling manner to bring Pitts'
story to the silver screen.