Review: The Last Full Measure

I really wish I could bestow high critical honors on The Last Full Measure because I totally support what it aims to do: share the story of a true American war hero and the decades-long effort to have his sacrifice acknowledged with a Congressional Medal of Honor. However… while the movie is inspired by actual events, it leans too heavily on character composites, over-dramatization, creative license, and one righteous speech after another by a cast of heavy-hitters. Christopher Plummer, William Hurt, Ed Harris, Samuel L. Jackson, Diane Ladd, the late Peter Fonda. Each delivers passionate dialogue that feels like something you’d see on a Memorial Day tribute to the nation’s fallen. Or a star-studded made for television movie. It feels exactly like what it is: a passion project that finally made it to the big screen as a low-budget indie. The key takeaway: U.S. Air Force Pararescue Jumper William H. “Pits” Pitsenbarger risked – and gave – his life to save dozens of men caught in an ambush in the jungles of Vietnam on April 11, 1966. He deserved a Congressional Medal of Honor, and his parents finally got to accept one on his behalf 34 years later. A very rare honor for an enlisted Airman.

The film takes the basic truths of Pitsenbarger’s story and surrounds it with a fictional narrative involving a conspiracy to deny him an upgrade to the Congressional Medal of Honor. Sebastian Stan (best known as Bucky Barnes in the Marvel universe) plays Scott Huffman, a career Pentagon staffer tasked with investigating the long-dormant MOH request. He’s not too thrilled with the assignment, until he starts interviewing Pitsenbarger’s parents and Army veterans who witnessed the young airman’s heroics. Then their protracted fight to get justice for Pits becomes his fight as well. Huffman is a “composite character” and details surrounding the battle, the possibility of friendly fire, and claims of a cover-up appear to have been manipulated for dramatic effect, as I learned when doing a bit of research on the history vs hollywood website. Perhaps ignorance is bliss where Hollywood filmmaking is concerned.

As Huffman investigates, flashbacks reveal what Pitsenbarger (Jeremy Ivine) did to help others during the 1966 battle at Xa Cam My, one of the bloodiest battles of the Vietnam War.

Pitsenbarger’s story is certainly a noble one, deserving of recognition. And the film will resonate with veterans and their families. But why roll it out in January? At the very least, The Last Full Measure needs the hook of a Memorial Day or Veterans Day weekend release to help make up for its lack of spark. The movie’s not so much about the politics of war as it is a rallying cry to better support military families and appreciate their dedication and sacrifice. Not just with medals – though sometimes, as in Pitsenbarger’s case – the medals are important too.

The title comes from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, which paid tribute to those soldiers who gave their country “the Last Full Measure of devotion.”

The Last Full Measure means well; it just falls flat.

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