The Last Full Measure review – a noble, flawed effort

February 3, 2020
M.N. Miller 0
Film, Film Reviews


A do-the-right-thing film that lacks technical savvy but makes up for it with well-earned manipulation, while the cast carries The Last Full Measure‘s general tenor home by honoring its subject.



A do-the-right-thing film that lacks technical savvy but makes up for it with well-earned manipulation, while the cast carries The Last Full Measure‘s general tenor home by honoring its subject.

The Last Full Measure is a “let’s do the right thing” picture that lacks an overall filmmaking savvy, but makes up for it with well-earned based-on-a-true-story manipulation. While director Todd Robinson’s latest film’s issues are evident, the cinematography winning the booby-prize here, the large number of the stacked cast carries its overall general tenor home by honoring its subject, William H. Pitsenbarger.

The film plays out over two timelines; the first is told through the eyes of Pitsenbarger (Mama Mia: Here We Go Again’s Jeremy Irvine) who was a member of the US Air Force Paratroopers and flew a rescue mission during the bloody Battle of Xa Cam My. His actions helped save 60 members of the U.S. Army’s 1st Infantry Division (played by Ed Harris and Samuel L. Jackson decades later). The second jumps 30 years later with a yuppy-political type named Scott Huffman (Sebastian Stan) who is given the task of investigating if Pitsenbarger should be awarded the Medal of Honor, and who is afraid this will derail his plans for a better political appointment in the very near future.

The film’s title refers to a line from Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address; he talked about the soldiers who gave up their lives during that battle. That’s fitting here as Pitsenbarger was given a chance to catch the last helicopter out of that conflict, but stayed behind to save countless American lives. It is such a compelling story it’s too bad for the film’s aforementioned lack of savvy with its technical quality. It has the look and feel of religious or Christian films that have plagued the genre the past thirty-four years (last year’s Breakthrough was a nice change). That falls squarely on the shoulder of the cinematographer Byron Werner, with poor color grading, clear over-light exposure, and lack of foreground shots.

Robinson also wrote the script, who has a history of solid work, scribing one of Ridley Scott’s underrated films, White Squall. His work head is fairly bland and straightforward while ramping up gobs of unscrupulous melodrama of men and women still reeling with survivors’ guilt. I’m really not complaining too much about that, because the sacrifice our soldiers make is well earned. However, it rarely goes beneath the surface by trying to give so much screen time to its large cast, who do elevate the material; William Hurt is particularly strong here. Alison Subol plays Stan’s wife and is saddled in the cliched role of a wife whose sole purpose is to remind her husband how great he is and make sure he takes the path not taken for the greater good.

They said the only thing Dwight Eisenhower would have given up the presidency for was the Medal of Honor. We tend to forget the level of importance this honor bestows in the day and age of constant depictions with so much entertainment now at our fingertips. My point is this is an extraordinary story that is told overwhelmingly, too divided between timelines. Better use of time would have been exploring the political fight of unraveling the red tape to honor the American hero. That’s not to say you need to ignore the battle completely, but it’s the choice the filmmakers made and should have clarified its focus since Huffman is at its center (similar to the way Mr. Rogers takes a back seat in 2019’s A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood).

Still, it’s a noble effort, elevated by its all-star cast, and will win over most movie fans (which most people are). William H. Pitsenbarger, however, deserves better.

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