Written and directed by Todd Robinson and featuring some heavy hitting award-winning actors, “The Last Full Measure” struggles in the jungles of patriotism to give US Air Force Pararescueman William H. Pitsenbarger his due. The premise of the film is Pitsenbarger deserved a Medal of Honor, but political machinations prevented it until an investigator gets all the paperwork and does a little arm-twisting.
Pitsenbarger (Jeremy Irvine) was on a rescue mission (11 April 1966) was on a rescue mission during the Battle of Xa Cam My. We learn that 80 percent of the men in the US Army’s First Infantry division died during the battle and although Pitsenbarger was offered the opportunity to leave on the last helicopter out of the combat zone and that he was actually commanded to leave, he refuses. Under fire by the Viet Cong, he saves over 60 injured men before being killed.
Over thirty years later, a Pentagon staff member, Scott Huffman (Sebastian Stan), must decide if he wants to keep his career on the fast-track as he investigates the Medal of Honor request made by Pitsenbarger’s best friend, Tully (played by William Hurt in the present and by Ethan Russell in the past), and Pitsenbarger’s parents, Frank (Christopher Plummer) and Alice (Diane Ladd) Pitsenbarger.
Huffman interviews surviving Army veterans Takoda (Samuel L. Jackson as the older and Ser’Darius Blain as the younger), Burr (Peter Fonda in his last film role and James Jagger as the 1960s version), and Mott (Ed Harris and Zach Roerig).
The title comes from Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address:
The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
There is no doubt that Pitsenbarger gave the last full measure of devotion to a cause, although the cause ultimately failed and Communism took over Vietnam. Beginning slow, there are a few good scenes and the actors are good, but there’s a lack of emotional build. The movie is most effective after the end, when we see and hear from the real people involved. A documentary might have been better than this fictionalized account although it does reveal aspects of PTSD.
“The Last Full Measure” made its world premiere at a special screening for veterans on 19 October 2019 and opened on 24 January 2020.