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Film Review

The Last Full Measure

Directed by Todd Robinson
From: Roadside Attractions
Released: 01.24.20
Review by Julian Lytle | January 23, 2020 at 6:30 PM

Basically: A war film about a group of veterans and the man who saved them all.

I didn’t know much about The Last Full Measure before going to see it and, honestly, I didn’t know much about the title’s meaning either. The theater was full of older people who knew what I didn’t. The Last Full Measure is a film about Vietnam War hero William H. Pitsenbarger (played by Jeremy Irvine), a U.S. Air Force Pararescueman who saved over sixty soldiers from the First Infantry Division on April 11th, 1966. He chose not to escape with his helicopter and died trying to save the Infantrymen from heavy fire. While this is important, the film chose to use this story to tell another. Sebastian Stan plays Pentagon staffer Scott Huffman, an ambitious young man who’s trying to rise in the ranks of bureaucracy as fast as he can in 1999. He ends up investigating a request to upgrade Pitsenbarger’s high Air Force medal to the Medal of Honor.

Using Huffman’s POV as a framing device helps viewers, like myself, discover more about the story as he does. You learn about Pitsenbarger’s sacrifice and the stories of his brothers in arms. Huffman has a good if not easy to guess character arc. There’s the annoyance of the task, then Huffman’s fear of being powerless and in over his head, before he gains the courage to make sure he can help Pitsenbarger’s friends and family who requested his Medal of Honor. Stan does a good job, for the most part. I’ve never really seen him play a “regular” person so it was good to see that.

Photo: Roadside Attractions

A lot of the dramatic weight comes from Stan’s older male castmates. William Hurt plays Tully, the man pushing the medal process. He kickstarts the story’s action while acting as a kind of guide for Huffman, showing him what all the soldiers went through. Peter Fonda, in his last performance, brings a lot of heft and vulnerability to the story, as does Ed Harris who still plays to type but with a little more. Samuel L. Jackson does a lot here, getting to act as a character who’s different to the persona he’s crafted over ten years. It’s great seeing these actors show pain, sadness, regret, and emotion instead of stoic sternness.

However, The Last Full Measure doesn’t impress visually and at times feels like a prestigious network television film on CBS, like 15 years ago on a Sunday night. I don’t mean that it’s bad or super cheap—the flashback scenes of the War are done pretty well and there are some good performances—but the film does feel like it could work perfectly fine on a TV screen. 

In the End: The Last Full Measure is a fine portrayal of an important story that you won’t feel has wasted your time.

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