“…the power of what one person can do.”
Written and directed by Todd Robinson, The Last Full Measure puts audiences through a military tour like no other to tell the valiant story of William Pitsenbarger. He would eventually be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor (MOH) by saving over 60 lives in the U.S. Army’s 1st Infantry Division during the Vietnam War.
The Last Full Measure is another great cinematic example of the “journey perspective” where the final result is already known and filmmakers show how this extraordinary result was accomplished. Pentagon official Scott Huffman (Sebastian Stan) is your tour guide on this journey.
Based on true events, the one hour and 50 minute plot begins on September 19, 1999 then filmmakers flashback to the key event that takes place during the Battle of Xa Cam My on a rescue mission on April 11, 1966.
Scott’s ordered to do more fact finding for Pitsenbarger’s long standing consideration for the prestigious MOH, which confuses Scott at first since Pitsenbarger was already posthumously given the Air Force Cross.
Secretary of the Air Force (Linus Roache), Scott’s cynical boss (Bradley Whitford), and Scott’s assistant Celia (LisaGay Hamilton) are also involved in this process.
Jeremy Irvine, a British actor, portrays Pitsenbarger during his U.S. military service as an Air Force Pararescueman (a.k.a. PJ). He’s just one piece of a stellar cast that elevates this already compelling account to a high level into a story filled with heart and genuine emotion without manipulation.
The amazing cast includes two Oscar-winning actors as well as five distinguished Oscar nominees. The plot engages and holds with memorable dialogue and helpful background, mainly from Pitsenbarger’s parents Frank (Christopher Plummer) and Alice (Diane Ladd).
The Army military men Pitsenbarger encountered during fateful operation include Tully (William Hurt), Takoda (Samuel L. Jackson), Jimmy Burr (Peter Fonda), and Col. Madison Holt (Dale Dye).
Each character is naturally affected by these events. The sheer battle for survival. The aftermath of their personal health. How they cope with the trauma, loss, and bravery shown on the battlefield.
Takoda says he felt like a “refuge in own country” when returning from the Vietnam War. While serving, Tully shares he “didn’t feel anything” and that’s how he knew he’d been over there too long. Jimmy’s traumatic condition requires the help of a live-in nurse (Amy Madigan). “I haven’t slept in the dark in 32 years, SIR!” says Jimmy while Holt offers a unique, hopeful look into these events from Vietnam as it is now.
Ray Mott (Ed Harris) also plays a key role in these military events. His character speaks of “duty, commitment, and mission” and sheds some light on the military operation in question.
All these soldiers struggle with the results in their own way. It’s hard to watch at times, but the convincing portrayals from the very talented cast help audiences to hang in there with them. Revelations occur as the story unfolds as each character makes has a meaningful contribution and role.
Robinson also makes a valuable impression in his direction, especially to top perspective shots during the war sequences and after. He also includes subtle yet effective touches during scenes transitions like Pitsenbarger’s name on the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial Wall. The sequence where Pitsenbarger waves off the helicopter when he had a chance to leave the battle was especially iconic and not overplayed.
It’s helpful to know military terms, which also provides a more enhanced experience, but filmmakers provide adequate explanation as many audiences learn alongside Huffman. It’s good to know some government functions as well.
The “red tape” government tactics were unnecessary and confusing, especially during an interior sequence at a restaurant where Scott’s boss exclaims a high ranking government official among his group is unavailable yet they’re all sitting at a public table having lunch as Scott as his own group question them and present compelling evidence.
Recommended (*** out of four stars) and rated R for war violence, and language. Stay for the ending credits to hear testimonials from the soldiers who experienced Bill’s heroics first-hand. These heartfelt words easily equal the great dialogue in this memorable film. The title comes from an excerpt from U.S. President Abraham Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address speech (“gave the last full measure of devotion”). This film’s production (20 years) took almost as long as Pitsenbarger’s eventual award of this Medal of Honor (34 years) – the 59th overall. The Last Full Measure is devoted to the memory of Peter Fonda.