The Last Full Measure

The ultimate sacrifice deserves the highest honour

‘Inspired’ by the true story of Vietnam War hero William H. Pitsenbarger (Jeremy Irvine) — who saved over sixty men during one of the conflict’s bloodiest battles — Todd Robinson’s The Last Full Measure is a muddled and overcrowded attempt in seeking the truth and injustice, as Pitsenbarger’s heroic deeds lay scattered throughout a laboured and pedestrian production.

The battle in question could have driven the entire film as Pitsenbarger notices the ground medic taken out of action and leaves the confines of his rescue helicopter to aid the soldiers coming under heavy fire in the jungle below. But alas, this isn’t Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge (2016), rather a meandering drama stitched together by a fictitious character — Pentagon staffer Scott Huffman (Sebastian Stan) — seeking out testimony of the surviving veterans to make sure that the Medal of Honor is awarded to Pitsenbarger some 34 years later.

Along the way Huffman meets brothers-in-arms Jimmy Burr (Peter Fonda, in his final performance), Billy Takoda (Samuel L. Jackson), Ray Mott (Ed Harris), Tom Tulley (William Hurt) and Pitsenbarger Snr. (Christopher Plummer), as their saviour’s actions become lost amongst fictionalised plot devices. When the film shifts focus to the conspiracy of a friendly fire incident, it, unintentionally, proceeds to drag Pitsenbarger’s story through the mud. 

As a film long in development (20 years with Clint Eastwood originally attached to star), Todd Robinson’s film seems to have been compromised through many executive decisions over the years, most notably the fictional elements and characters, such as the character of Huffman himself. The conspiracy to keep a friendly-fire incident classified begins to weigh heavy and maybe in the right hands could have delivered a far more thoughtful and engaging war drama. However, the message is muddled, asking too many questions to too many characters when the focus should have been on Pitsenbarger and his sacrifice.

If there is any truth in what the film presents then it is a severe injustice that any man’s courage should be smeared by a home blunder. The situation was a chaotic one and Pitsenbarger’s medal should have been awarded, regardless. These kinds of films need the tenacity and confidence to deliver a hero’s journey with some clarity. It is therefore surprising to learn that Robinson’s background in journalism, coupled with and surrounded by the right producers, could not figure out a stronger way to tell such an important story.

Was Pitsenbarger downgraded because of the ‘incident’? Who knows — the saddest part in reading about the case is the apparent lack of documentation to build an accurate picture of Pitsenbarger’s heroic actions, which is more than likely the main reason the film is structured the way it is. It is upsetting to learn that despite the theory surrounding the central conspiracy, the Medal of Honor may have also been denied because Pitsenbarger was part of the Air Force who were not meant to be there in the first place. Therefore acknowledgement of Pitsenbarger’s heroic deeds would have made the Army look incompetent. With no evidence to support any of the theories presented, the film clutches at straws and, in some instances, becomes the very thing that breaks its back.

The plot is needlessly forced as Huffman begins to find out more about the courageous acts. The denial over awarding the medal is stretched thin as we focus on Huffman’s career being placed on the line as he seeks justice for the fallen airman. Ultimately, the saddest part of the movie is not how powerful the story is but how lost Pitsenbarger’s character becomes amongst the ensemble. We are meant to feel something, but it’s all lost in meaningless anecdotes and muddled dialogue, “It’s why medals are so important, they help us tell stories” says John Savage’s vet, returning to familiar Deer Hunter territory.

If that’s what we are meant to believe then this medal should have been polished and held more tightly, or simply left in its box.

The Last Full Measure is available to VoD from June 1st


Updated: May 30, 2020

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