Saturday 14 May 2022

Movie Review: The Last Full Measure (2019)

A biographical drama retroactively examining battlefield heroics, The Last Full Measure is earnest but veers towards persistent reverence.

In 1999, Vietnam War veteran Tom Tulley (William Hurt) advocates for reopening the case of Air Force Pararescueman William H. Pitsenbarger (Jeremy Irvine) to determine if he posthumously deserves the Medal of Honor. Ambitious Pentagon staffer Scott Huffman (Sebastian Stan) is tasked with conducting the necessary research.

In April of 1966, a US Army platoon is caught in a Vietnam jungle ambush and suffers heavy casualties. Pitsenbarger rappels onto the battlefield from the safety of his helicopter to help evacuate the wounded. He saves many lives before succumbing to enemy fire, but is then awarded the Air Force Cross rather than the coveted Medal of Honor. 

Scott is initially uninterested in the entire file, but is soon drawn into the case as he tracks down survivors and hears the stories of the men involved in the fateful battle, including Billy Takoda (Samuel L. Jackson), Ray Mott (Ed Harris), and Jimmy Burr (Peter Fonda). Pitsenbarger's parents Frank and Alice (Christopher Plummer and Diane Ladd) support Scott's investigation, with Frank's ill health adding a sense of urgency.

Written and directed by Todd Robinson, The Last Full Measure is inspired by real events. The film sets out to salute the heroes of a war gone bad, and achieves this objective with ardent respect. The screenplay carries a nervous yearning for a final polish, but the production values are slick, and the tone is serious, inquisitive, and always searching for the positive instinct within the human spirit. 

As bureaucrat Scott delves into the case, frequent flashbacks from multiple perspectives recreate the ambush at the centre of Pitsenbarger's story. The combat scenes are suitably chaotic, the on-the-ground soldiers trapped by intense enemy fire and gripped by confusion and fear. Into this arena drops Pitsenbarger to help save the wounded, and The Last Full Measure never holds back on representing the medal winner as a mythical saviour. Soaring emotive music augments the square-jawed fearless warrior image, actor Jeremy Irvine encouraged to rise above the mayhem of mere mortals.

The surrounding modern day men-of-war stories enhance the drama. Scott's investigation reopens old wounds, rekindling memories of battlefield mistakes that still haunt surviving soldiers tortured by the belief they should have done better. Samuel L. Jackson, Ed Harris, and Peter Fonda embody veterans living with waking nightmares populated by death, gore, and disillusion. In an elegant gesture, John Savage appears as a sage and healing presence in the post-war Vietnam jungle, 41 years after his seminal ordeal in The Deer Hunter

Less effective is a bit of villainy in the form of Scott's boss Carlton Stanton (Bradley Whitford), who pulls on levers of careerism to protect his bosses as the investigation reveals military missteps.

Steering away from wit, cynicism, or broader questions about war, The Last Full Measure succeeds in saluting valour within sacrifice.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

No comments:

Post a Comment

We welcome reader comments about this post.