So many films based on true events would be significantly better if they stuck to facts of the stories that inspired them. Todd Robinson‘s latest endeavor, “The Last Full Measure,” is a perfect example.
Air Force Pararescueman William “Pits” Pitsenbarger was part of a crew in Vietnam, tasked with evacuating injured soldiers by helicopter. In 1966, on a day that was considered the bloodiest in terms of US casualties, Pits jumped into the fray, refusing to leave men behind. Eventually, he picked up a gun and fought alongside them, sacrificing his own life to save dozens of others.
It’s the ultimate story of military bravery and service and the men who served alongside Pits spent years working to recognize him with the Congressional Medal of Honor. “The Last Full Measure” is the story of that achievement, centering on a DOD employee tasked with investigating the proposed recipient’s worthiness of one of the nation’s highest honors. Sebastian Stan is Scott Huffman, whose quest takes on a life of its own as he becomes more and more entrenched in the story.
Christopher Plummer and Diane Ladd co-star as Pitsenbarger’s parents, Frank and Alice. Huffman meets them in the 90s, some thirty years after that terrible day in Vietnam. Through them, he learns more about who Pits was and what his loss meant to them. Ed Harris, Samuel L. Jackson, William Hurt, and Peter Fonda are several of the men who fill in the details of the soldier he became. Each of them left Vietnam years before, but as with most war veterans, Vietnam never left them. Each of these actors shines in various degrees, invoking trauma, sadness, and sometimes despair.
The big issue with “The Last Full Measure” is that it manufactures a conspiracy theory in which forces are actively invested in keeping Pitsenbarger from the award that is rightfully his. Only three recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor have ever come from the Air Force, a fact that is repeated ad nauseum by several characters. There is a tone of antipathy toward the pararescuers and an odd suggestion that people actively worked against honoring Pitsenbarger’s memory. None of this is documented as factual, and characters like Huffman are invented.
The battle scenes are brutal and devastating. The actors are great, and often delivers on strong dialogue. The flashbacks are confusing at times, because the younger counterparts to our older actors aren’t always clearly identified. But where the real events of both Pitsenbarger’s death and the journey to get him posthumously recognized are fascinating, the film is more interested in creating tension in places it doesn’t need to be. It honors Pitsenbarger nicely, but spends too much time focusing on the personal life of a man who had nothing to do with the story because he didn’t even exist. It doesn’t ruin the experience, but does shift too much attention away from the true heart of the story.
“The Last Full Measure” is worth watching for its exceptional performances and for a sequence at the end that is truly, deeply moving.