The Last Full Measure

 

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A real-life story reaches the screen after years of effort to get it made.

 
Last Full Measure, The 

Ser'Darius Blain

 

Todd Robinson is not a particularly well-known writer/director and this is only his third feature film with actors but, even so, he has been able to attract a quite remarkable cast now that this project, formulated way back, has at last gone into production. The story that he had wanted to tell for so long is centred on one particular real-life figure, William H. Pitsenbarger who died a hero at the age of 21 on 11th April 1966. An American airman and a pararescue jumper, he met his death in Vietnam while carrying out actions that posthumously earned him the Air Force Cross. However, the story did not end there because veterans he had aided believed that he should have been awarded a higher decoration, the Medal of Honor. Consequently, despite numerous flashbacks to April 1966, The Last Full Measure is mainly set in 1999 as we follow an initially halfhearted investigation arising from the claims being made and undertaken by a representative of the Department of Defense, Scott Hoffman (Sebastian Stan). This had been brought about due to the sheer persistence of those veterans who believed that Pitsenbarger deserved better.

 

The action flashbacks come up at intervals throughout the film and are competently staged with enough graphic injury to underline what these soldiers went through. But all the same by only showing Pitsenbarger (Jeremy Irvine) in this context the actor is given little chance to build a character in any detail. Consequently, it is fortunate that, despite being a tale about one man's sacrifice for his country, what really emerges here is a general portrait of the cost of war to the individuals involved. Hoffman's enquiries lead to interviews with a number of veterans, some still evident victims of PTSD over thirty years later and all of them scarred to some extent by the Vietnam War. Debra Granik's splendid Leave No Trace (2018) touched on a comparable issue, but here we have a film that makes it a central feature and one suspects that it was this very worthy concept that attracted such a fine cast. The veterans seen as central here are played by William Hurt, Samuel L. Jackson, Ed Harris and the late Peter Fonda (to whose memory this film is dedicated) while Pitsenbarger's parents are portrayed by Christopher Plummer and Diane Ladd.

 

For much of its length The Last Full Measure adopts a restraint arguably more British than American in character. The absence of a high-flown patriotic approach helps the impressive cast to make their mark and, until the last scenes take on a more sentimental tone, the film feels valid and authentic to the extent that I was subsequently surprised to learn that the veterans portrayed are fictionalised figures standing in for those who made their voices heard in support of a Medal of Honor for Pitsenbarger. Less surprisingly, Hoffman is similarly a representative figure rather than an actual individual and, although he is given a character arc as he goes from indifference to passion over the mission assigned to him, the writing fails to flesh him out in any depth. But that is not the case with either the veterans or the parents so, even though this is an uneven film, it wins through to express a truth about what war does to people and in doing so it provides some fine players with roles worthy of them.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Sebastian Stan, Christopher Plummer, William Hurt, Ed Harris, Samuel L. Jackson, Diane Ladd, Peter Fonda, Jeremy Irvine, Amy Madigan, Linus Roache, John Savage, Alison Sudol, Bradley Whitford, Ethan Russell, Zach Roerig, Ser'Darius Blain, James Jagger, LisaGay Hamilton, Michael Imperioli, Dale Dye, Cody Walker.

 

Dir Todd Robinson, Pro Julian Adams, Michael Bassick, Timothy Scott Bogart, Nicholas Cafritz, Adi Cohen, Mark Damon, Pen Densham, Robert Reed Peterson, Jordi Reliu, Shaun Sanghani, Lauren Selig, Sidney Sherman andJohn Watson, Screenplay Todd Robinson, Ph Byron Werner, Pro Des Jonathan A. Carlson, Ed Richard Nord, Claudia Castello and Terel Gibson, Music Philip Klein, Costumes Peggy Stamper.

 

BCL Finance Group/Boss Collaboration/Foresight Unlimited/Lightbox Pictures/Provocator/SSS Entertainment/SC Films Thailand Co-Parkland Pictures.
111 mins. USA. 2019. Rel: 1 June 2020. Available on major digital platforms. Cert. 15.