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A Tale of Sacrifice and Honour, ‘The Last Full Measure’ Is a Multifaceted View Into the Trials of a War Veteran5 min read

18 February 2020 4 min read


A Tale of Sacrifice and Honour, ‘The Last Full Measure’ Is a Multifaceted View Into the Trials of a War Veteran5 min read

Reading Time: 4 minutes

The true story of Vietnam War hero William H. Pitsenbarger, a USAF Pararescue medic who saved over sixty men in the U.S. Army’s 1st Infantry Division before making the ultimate sacrifice in one of the bloodiest battles of the war. Thirty-two years later, Pentagon staffer Scott Huffman investigates a decades-long Congressional Medal of Honor request for Pitsenbarger and uncovers a high-level conspiracy prompting him to put his career on the line to seek justice for the fallen airman.

Director: Todd Robinson

Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Sebastian Stan, Christopher Plummer, William Hurt, Diane Ladd, Ed Harris, Peter Fonda

Year: 2020

Country: United States

Language: English

Runtime: 110 minutes

The Last Full Measure is a film about Vietnam War veteran William H. Pitsenbarger, aka Pits (Jeremy Irvine), and his posthumous battle for the congressional medal of honour, the highest accolade in the U.S military service. Scott Huffman (Sebastian Stan) is tasked with this tedious investigation, much to his disdain. His investigations soon lead him to meet other veterans with war-torn pasts and eventually to a high-profile conspiracy. Scott is then faced with a difficult decision where he must choose between honour or convenience. 

The anticipation for the resolution at the end of a film is arguably the most important factor that holds the attention of an audience throughout. The Last Full Measure, however, does not have that privilege. Since this movie is based entirely on real life events, you may already know how it is going to end. Yet, it is every bit as riveting and awe-inspiring as it hopes to be, owing much of that success to the all-star cast.

In the opening of the film, we see retired Master Sergeant Tully (William Hurt) campaigning for his partner Pits’ medal of honour. He is revealed to have spent the last 32 years in the pursuit of the medal. Scott’s character arc is rather predictable, going from uninterested to personally invested in his investigation – true to the cliché. However, Scott, being the underdog in the movie, plays a pivotal role in helping the rest of the characters shine by being the string that ties everyone together.

Hurt’s portrayal of Tully is phenomenal as he masks a myriad of emotions behind a composed exterior. Hurt and Stan share a decent amount of screen time together, enough to build up a chemistry that explodes with fireworks in the climax. That scene is one that stayed with me long after the movie was over, reminding me of the importance of unloading emotional baggage – even sometimes to the most unlikely of people.

Much of the film is devoted to flashback scenes, where the veterans are shown in the midst of action in Operation Abilene which is hailed to be one of the hardest battles of the Vietnam War. Pits himself only appears in these scenes where he heroically saves the lives of infantrymen, namely Takoda (Samuel L. Jackson), Ray Mott (Ed Harris), Jimmy Burr (Peter Fonda) and sixty others.

Jackson, Harris and Fonda are performance powerhouses as veterans both in reel and real life. While Pits’ valour is the primary talking point of the movie, the three shed much-needed light on living with survivor’s guilt. The three of them play hardened veterans, each grappling with demons that they do not speak of. Their delivery of pain and trauma is restrained, true to the hardened soldier archetype. Jackson’s scene in the war memorial is particularly haunting, as a homage to all that have fallen.

The battle scenes are well-executed with rough camera work by Director of Photography, Byron Werner, often juxtaposed with classical music – a commonly used technique in war films to successfully create tension. While it worked in the film, I found some of these scenes to be abruptly cut off, not allowing me enough time to finish my thoughts. The scenes boasts hyper-realistic special effects battle wounds that justifies calling Operation Abilene one of the “bloodiest battles in history”. 

Some of the most emotional scenes in the movie are provided by Pits’ parents, Frank and Alice Pitsenbarger (Christopher Plummer and Diane Ladd). The two play an extremely sweet couple who harbour no ill-feelings towards their son’s early demise. Instead, they spend their days comforting the other surviving veterans.

Frank and Alice play a vital role in developing Pits as a character. As the little we see of him is only his valour on the battlefield, it is left up to his friends and family to help the audience build a relationship with him, which they do very successfully. 

Posthumous characters are, in my opinion, the hardest to connect with as they have minimal physical presence on screen, apart from the occasional flashback. However, Frank and Alice bring Pits to life. It is impossible not to feel emotional at their sincere portrayal and I often found myself teary-eyed in almost all their scenes.

While gathering and extracting the best of an ensemble cast of this degree of talent is a success of its own, The Last Full Measure is a genuine narrative by Director Todd Robinson. It is an immensely moving portrayal of the 34-year journey the characters undertook to honour Pits and heartwarmingly highlights the battles the veterans face, outside the battlefield. 

The Last Full Measure is in Shaw Theatres from 13 February.

Photo Credits: Foresight Unlimited

Stacy is a self-proclaimed wordsmith who tries to see the good in the world.
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