“THE LAST FULL MEASURE”
In the Gettysburg address, Abraham Lincoln paid tribute to the fallen for giving “the last full measure of devotion” to their cause. That provides the title for Todd Robinson’s “The Last Full Measure,” which depicts the quest to award Air Force pararescue medic William Pitsenbarger the Medal of Honor 34 years after he perished in the Vietnam War.
The Medal of Honor is the military’s highest distinction. It’s so important to his surviving Air Force buddies and the Army soldiers he rescued that Pitsenbarger receive it, an upgrade from the Air Force Cross he initially received, that they spend three decades in pursuit of the distinction. By 1999, they eventually get the file to D.C. bureaucrat Scott Huffman (Sebastian Stan), who is saddled with the task of pushing through the request before Pitsenbarger’s father (Christopher Plummer) passes away. It soon becomes a cathartic emotional exploration for Scott and the veterans, played by a star-studded cast that includes William Hurt, Samuel L. Jackson, the late Peter Fonda, Ed Harris and John Savage.
In a series of messy and chaotic flashbacks, which are untethered from any specific person or memory, the story of Pistenbarger’s heroism unfolds: during a mission called Operation Abilene, Pistenbarger (Jeremy Irvine) is sent to rescue a battalion of men pinned down by the Viet Cong. Lowered into the jungle to treat the wounded, he waves off the helicopter as it tries to pick him up, fighting alongside soldiers he didn’t know before he is killed.
It’s a shame the flashbacks are so harried, as the gravity of Pitsenbarger’s actions could have landed more fully with the audience. It’s also sidetracked by an underdeveloped storyline about the misguided nature of Operation Abilene. But fundamentally, the film is about the healing process for the veterans and Pitsenbarger’s parents as they pursue recognition for their friend, son and hero. Although the script and aesthetic are rather melodramatic and oftentimes overly sentimental, the cast elevates the material with nuanced performances.