Coming to theatres from director writer/director Todd Robinson and Roadside Attractions comes a film that answers the question of ‘is it ever to late to do the right thing?’ with the story that takes THE LAST FULL MEASURE.
Now, here is where I usually tell the story and the actors who portray them but this time I’m going to do something a little different. On April 11, 1966, a very young Air Force Pararescuer A1C William H. Pitsenbarger was sent to retrieve Army soldiers wounded in an ongoing ambush.
Needing help loading the wounded men on the ground, Pitsenbarger volunteered to go down to help the men who he did not even know. Under intense fire, the helicopter needed to leave and Pitsenbarger stayed. For almost two hours he tended to the wounded and even helped with munitions for the soldiers still in the fight.
There were men that day who survived the battle of Abilene witnessing all of what Pitsenbarger did to save as many as he could.
Now, here we are, in January of 2020, fifty-four years later hearing the story of Pitsenbarger because there were men that day who believed this young man deserved a Medal of Honor and was denied and why?
That is what the film THE LAST FULL MEASURE is about. Scott Huffman (Sebastian Stan) is a young politician who needs to find another position with a new administration coming in. Politician Whit Peters (Linus Roache) and handler Carlton Stanton (Bradley Whitford) present Huffman with letters about how A1C Pitsenbarger was supposed to get the Medal of Honor but instead only received a Air Force Cross.
Wanting answers is Tulley (William Hurt) a palliative care worker who knows the family including father Frank (Christopher Plummer) and mother Alice (Diane Ladd). Irritated that he has to be bothered with this when he’s trying to find another White House position, Huffman begrudgingly starts looking for witnesses that include Ray Mott (Ed Harris), Jimmy Burr (Peter Fonda), Takoda (Samuel L. Jackson) and Kepper (John Savage).
Each of these men are suffering from different forms and severity of PTSD are suffering from different forms and severity of PT and bringing up what happened on April 11, 1966 is physically and mentally painful. These men had a story to tell but trusting all the information to Huffman proves to be his challenge.
Finally, the truth is uncovered and it becomes time to bring it all to the forefront so that A1C William H. Pitsenbarger is not only honored for what he did, but for those who fought for that recognition and the lives he touched from one act of valor.
Stan as Huffman couldn’t have found a better role to play because it is nothing like I’ve ever seen him play. He gets a chance to show what he can do (without a suit) in bringing this character to fruition. Thinking only of his possibilities in the White House, it slowly becomes clear that his priorities might be a little skewed.
Hurt as Tulley is the first force to be reckoned with as it becomes clear that he feels a sense of something about that day. He wants to bring honor to Pitsenbarger for the sake of his lovely parents. Jackson as Takoda is a man of few useless words and he don’t take kindly to outsiders invading his personal space but does explain that he had been trying for years to make the medal happen.
Fonda as Billy (and it is a loving moment to see him on the screen) is a man tortured beyond reason because of his Vietnam experience. His wife Donna played by stellar actress Amy Madigan, explains to Huffman that the night holds nothing but fear for her husband.
Harris as Mott is a man who carries his own guilt about what happened and the aftermath. Like his Army buddies, he is not happy to be talking to Huffman but if it gets Pitsenbarger what he deserves then perhaps it’s time.
Whitford as Stanton gets a chance to be back in the White House and douchey at the same time. The one thing you can say about Whitford, he is good at being good and seriously bad at being seriously bad. Hurt as Keppel is a man who lives in Vietnam and tries to help his fellow servicemen. When Huffman visits him there are so many moments of pain and joy it is a scene you have you experience for yourself.
Finally, to Jeremy Irvine who portrays Pitsenbarger – you sir gave a performance that choked me. Every time he was on screen, I just saw such a young man doing the extraordinary. Please don’t get me wrong, I know all soldiers do the extraordinary because I know I couldn’t. I’m giving Irvine a backslap for giving us the feel for this soldier at this era.
Other cast include Alison Sudol as Tara Huffman, Cody Walker as Young Kepper, Ser’Darius Blain as Young Takoda, James Jagger as Young Jimmy Burr, Travis Wade as Lt. Tom Allison.
Is this a vague description of the film? Absolutely. I wasn’t sure what I would be seeing when presented with the opportunity to see THE LAST FULL MEASURE, but I can tell you this, my heart ached the entire film.
We live in a world that still doesn’t seem to understand what war does to the men and women who fight in them. Vietnam was the first opportunity that family and friends experienced the effects when loved ones returned totally different. Psychological help wasn’t a priority then so as the years passed, so did the concern for the soldiers.
Hollywood scratched at it a few times with such films as FULL MENTAL JACKET, DEERHUNTER, PLATOON, BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY, and FULL METAL JACKET but didn’t seem to pierce the wall to those who could make change.
Here we are with Afghanistan and Iraq with soldiers returning to the same mess created by war. Sending perfectly capable individuals on to be returned people in physical and mental pain. So THE LAST FULL MEASURE doesn’t hide the PTSD that these men continue to suffer and the character of Huffman can’t run from it any longer either.
This is our history folks, one that is repeated time and time again with every war started. Am I saying we should protect ourselves, absolutely not – but we need to be sure that it is a last resort not a first stone cast.
Now, to Pitsenberger’s story – it is the mixture of men agonizing over decisions made and people not being held accountable for their actions. The film doesn’t let any of it slide away into oblivion but instead faces it, just as the soldier’s family and friends have faced it every day since. The soldiers that were there that day come face to face with it and this film gives us the chance to embrace them even if we can’t’ break through the screen and hug them.
The cast is absolutely amazing and there is no one that takes the screen away from another. They, well, meld together to support one another’s character because they want to bring the message to us – never be afraid to do what’s right just as Pitsenbarger did.
Please let that be the very thing everyone takes away from seeing THE LAST FULL MEASURE.
I truly believe it is important that each person that sees the film remembers exactly what the citation reads, so, it you will indulge me. The citation reads, “The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, March 3, 1963 has awarded in the name of the Congress the Medal of Honor posthumously to: A1C William H. Pitsenbarger, United States Air Force for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his own life above and beyond the call of duty near Cam My, April 11, 1966”.
In the end – he gave the very last full measure.