Is it worth $10? No
There’s an inherent frustration in “The Last Full Measure” that undermines everything it does well. To be sure, it tells an important story: Department of Defense attorney Scott Huffman (Sebastian Stan) is told by his boss (Bradley Whitford) to collect testimonies for a medal review. Specifically, Scott investigates whether an Air Force pararescue soldier named William “Pits” Pitsenbarger is worthy of the military’s highest award, the Medal of Honor.
Based on a true story, Scott tracks down the people whose lives “Pits” saved during Operation Abilene in 1966 in Vietnam. It was a slaughter for American forces, but Pits was credited with saving at least nine lives before he died from a gunshot wound. He was initially awarded the Air Force Cross, but his old pararescue partner, Tulley (William Hurt), insists a higher commendation is in order, and creates waves in powerful places to make it happen.
What’s frustrating is that even though the men he saved agree Pits should be honored as a hero, none want to talk about it. Or can talk about it. Thus the movie is about an honor everyone believes a dead guy should have, but doesn’t because the people who can enable him to posthumously have it don’t speak up (except Tulley and Pits’ parents (Christopher Plummer and Diane Ladd)).
In fairness, the soldiers Pits saved suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and for them remembering the war is not easy. When Scott shows Takoda (Samuel L. Jackson) his tape recorder, Takoda grabs it and throws it into a river. Jimmy (Peter Fonda) has such severe PTSD that he sleeps during the day, and his wife Donna (Amy Madigan) tries to keep strangers away. Ray (Ed Harris) seems the most willing to help, but isn’t forthcoming with needed information. PTSD was and is a serious condition, and it certainly isn’t the intention of this review to besmirch anyone who suffers from it. However, it’s still fair to write that the movie doesn’t handle the story surrounding their condition very well.
Flashbacks to the Operation Abilene battle are interspersed throughout so we can see Pits’ (Jeremy Irvine) heroism on full display. Showing us his heroics rather than telling us about it makes sense, but the scenes are uncreatively shot by writer/director Todd Robinson, and often labor to make an impact. This is partially the result of being told how great Pits was prior to the flashbacks, which makes it nearly impossible for him to live up to the hype. But it’s also bland filmmaking, with neither the camera, the action nor the visual effects doing something we haven’t seen plenty of times before.
It’s a shame, too, because not only is Pits a worthy subject for a movie, you also couldn’t pick a better cast if you tried. Unfortunately, given that “The Last Full Measure” tells an important story poorly, this is a missed opportunity for all.
Did you know?
The film was shot from April-June 2017, a full two years before Peter Fonda died of lung cancer in August 2019.