Sebastian Stan and Samuel L Jackson lead the ensemble of The Last Full Measure, that’s available on demand now – and here’s our review.
On 11 April 1969, U S Air Force rescueman William Pitsenbarger was airlifting the injured during one of the bloodiest battles of the Vietnam War. When the company lost their medic, he went to help the wounded below and, defying an order to return to his helicopter, was killed while saving even more lives.
Writer/director Todd Robinson’s The Last Full Measure examines the battle thirty years later for him to receive the highest of military awards, the Medal Of Honour, giving us a tale of heroism and sentiment, but thankfully devoid of jingoism. Instead, he traces the efforts of government official, Scott Huffman (Sebastian Stan) who, assigned the case to keep him busy before leaving his cushy job, is less than committed to the cause. Previous campaigns on Pitsenbarger’s behalf have failed and Huffman is simply going through the motions, until he individually meets the veterans who had their lives saved by the airman and hears their stories.
Instead of focusing on heroism, the film spends much of its time on the effects of PTSD and survivor’s guilt. When Huffman tells one of the survivors, Takoda (Samuel L Jackson), that “surviving isn’t a crime”, the answer is short and swift. “No, it isn’t. It’s a life sentence.”
There’s more than a hint of anger at the way veterans are treated once they come home – Jackson’s character also gives this a voice, feeling like “a refugee in his own country” when he returned – and the line-up of seasoned actors playing the group of ex-servicemen is the film’s biggest pleasure. The dialogue they have to work with isn’t always of the highest order, but their performances most certainly are.
As well as Jackson, there’s William Hurt as ring leader, Tulley, the airman who allowed Pitsenbarger to leave the helicopter, a shrewd operator who refuses to give up. Ed Harris’s Mott is suitably sceptical, but demonstrates how memories can be resurrected in the blink of an eye and, in one of his last roles, Peter Fonda is especially good as Jimmy Barr, whose fear of the night is such that he only sleeps during the day. Their involvement in the battle on that day in April is shown in flashbacks, each told from their personal perspective. It’s a workmanlike technique but its repeated use soon wears thin and loses its impact.
The one character we hardly meet is Pitsenbarger himself. Defined by the stories others tell about him, he might be heroic but he remains an enigma, a shadowy figure who plays little part in his own story. In his death, he may have given his last full measure, but he doesn’t receive it from this well-intentioned film designed to celebrate his heroism.
The Last Full Measure is available to buy via on demand services.
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