The Last Full Measure

The Last Full Measure 2

By Joanna Langfield

It’s taken over 50 years to get the story to the screen of how and why Air Force medic William H. Pitsenbarger earned his Medal of Honor. In light of this country’s continuing issues with the legacy of the Vietnam War and its veterans, the film packs an earnest and long time in coming punch.

Centering on Pentagon staffer Scott Huffman’s investigation, Todd Robinson’s harrowing drama takes us back to the scene of one of the war’s deadliest conflicts and introduces us to the men who, thirty years later, were still fighting for the man who saved their lives. Sebastian Stan sheds his superhero costume to play the real life young husband and father who became the effort’s eventual leader. As he interviews the shattered survivors, key to Pitsenbarger’s legacy, he realizes not just what happened in country, but also to the men and women who paid a price, sometimes the ultimate one.

Robinson’s uneven film may suffer from its lack of subtlety or artistry (this is no Deer Hunter), but the story and the actors who tell it insure we are drawn in and made to face our own feelings about the war and the men who battled it. From the late Peter Fonda to Christopher Plummer, Bradley Whitford to Diane Ladd, each brings an urgent understanding of those who lost, those who blocked and those who won. And it’s impossible to shake the work we see, even in sporadic scenes, from William Hurt, Ed Harris and Samuel L. Jackson, all of whom deliver among the best performances we’ve seen from them in years.

If all of that doesn’t get you, wait till you get to the award ceremony, where the camera pans across the crowd of actors as well as some of the real life men who would never forget. Their faces, wrinkled, puffy and proud, tell us more than words could. This film is determined to thank them for their service then and now. These men, we see, have earned it.

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