The Last Full Measure (2020) Review
VALOR DEFINED IN MANY WAYS
War is waged by nations, but it is human beings that pay the price. While many wartime tales of battles being fought and over the victories that have been won, the aftermath of war has affected millions of individuals and, while the hardships of civilian lives are numerous, the “war coming home” for the soldiers is another war entirely. The battles might be over, but it is the so-called “battlefield of the mind” that plagues many soldiers after the war; haunted by nightmares that they faced previously and burdens of the past that they will carry with them for years to come. Additionally, tales of unsung heroes have fallen through the cracks of history, with displays of courage and vTooalor being dismissed and lost within the perilous times of war. Now, Roadside Attractions and director Todd Robinson present the feature film on such measure of war, valor, and uncovering the truth in the film The Last Full Measure. Does this military drama find its calling within its true untold story or does it fail to bring the light the tale of real-life vet William H. Pitsenbarger?
The year is 1999 and Scott Huffman (Sebastian Stan) is a dutiful employee at the Department of Defense who’s learned his position will likely be eliminated during a shake-up of leadership. Putting on more stress to his situation, Scott is dealing with his family life, with his wife, Tara (Allison Sudol), is pregnant. In the flurry of daily business of the comings and goings, Scott is introduced to the case of William Pitsenbarger (Jeremy Irvine), a Vietnam War soldier who spotted danger during an ill-fated missioned called “Operation Abilene”, sacrificing himself to save the lives of his fellow soldiers. Awarded the Air Force Cross decades ago, William’s actions were denied the prestigious Medal of Honor, inspiring soldiers who survived the day, including Tully (William Hurt), to make a push of such a distinction. Tasked with reviving the investigation, Scott reluctantly takes the medal reviews case, only to discover much more to what really happened during Operation Abilene; seeking out other fellow soldiers, including Ray (Ed Harris), Takoda (Samuel L. Jackson), Kepper (John Savage), and Jimmy (Peter Fonda) who served with Pitsenbarger and to understand the true meaning of loss and valor in the face of overwhelming odds.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Through times of war, people have paid the price for the decisions and actions made on both on and off the battlefield…. that much is true. The conflict between ideals of nations and countries is something of a “history lessons” of the cautious tales of humanity and power throughout the ages. That being said, the countless soldiers that serve in during these wars have definitely (in my opinion) paid the price for the service, with many (those fortunate to survive) returning home with some form of PTSD and struggling to simulate back into normal “everyday” society. As one can imagine this is a horrible state of “cost” to veteran soldiers as well as the idea of history eschewing some of the stories of valor and courage of some individuals during this time. Of course, various media platforms (i.e TV shows, movies, and books) have begun to shed light on these events.
This brings me back to talking about The Last Full Measure, a new wartime drama that seeks to examine the life of a deceased Vietnam soldier and the importance he had had. To be honest, I really didn’t hear much about this movie (prior to its release) as it didn’t create a whole lot of “buzz” on the movie website that I occasionally browse through. To be even more honest, I really can’t remember seeing the film’s movie trailer went I used to go out for my weekly “movie nights” at the nearby theater (i.e the 20 minute “coming soon” previews). I do, however, remember seeing a listing for the movie back during the end of January on the Regal Movie site, but the film wasn’t being shown in my area. Thus, I kind of forgot about. I know…sad but true. Anyways, with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic still going on, the movie theater chains are still somewhat closed with the various Hollywood studios still continuing to reshuffle their theatrical releases, which means that I had the time to revisit some lesser known movies that either I might have missed at the beginning of 2020 or some features that didn’t make it to theaters. Thus, The Last Full Measure was one of the movies as I decided to rent it via Vudu to see if the movie was to my liking. And was it? Well, to be honest, it was. Despite having a very predictable / formulaic path, The Last Full Measure is touching and moving drama piece that touches some deeper meaning themes, which is accompanied by some solid direction and performances throughout. Its not the most originals story to be told, but its definitely a compelling one that’s filled with care and attention to cinematic storytelling.
The Last Full Measure is directed by Todd Robinson, whose previous directorial works such as Lonely Hearts, Amargosa, and Phantom. While Robinson hasn’t directed much in the last few years (his last directorial work was back in 2013), he returns to the director’s chair filled with vim and vigor and makes The Last Full Measure his most ambitious feature project to date. To his success, Robinson approaches the tale of William Pitsenbarger’s narrative (for a cinematic undertaking) with a great sense of sincerity and respect for not just Pitsenbarger’ story, but also to the people surrounding him. Thus, the movie feels more like a collective work of everyone’s memories and those involved that have a connection to Pitsenbarger, which makes the film feel multi-layered and connected all the same. Additionally, Robinson makes the film have a grounded feeling of what he wants to project on the feature as well as to us (the viewers out there); revealing Pitsenbarger’s plight in a way that feels both thematically charged and dramatically entertaining for a theatrical feature film endeavor. Thus, Robinson’s shapes the film in a caring way that makes respectable to its source material as well as keeping the movie entertaining and pleasurable to watch. Also, Robinson finds a right balance between the wartime action / suspense scenes (a mixture of valiant bravery and horrors) and drama pieces of Scott Huffman’s journey to uncover the truth.
What also makes the movie feel grounded in realism and human emotion is within its thematic story of war and valor during such nightmarish times of war as well as the effect it has long after the tides of battle are over. What do I mean by that? Well, the movie’s story showcases many veteran soldiers (those who knew Pitsenbarger) and how they interacted with him during the time together in the army during Vietnam war and returning home a bit broken and fractured from their ser the vice. It’s a very poignant and moving commentary message to display as it certainly takes a mirrored image of veteran soldiers returning from war in the real world. Everyone is affected by war and sometimes the aftermath of war and the psychological effect it has can vary from individual to individual who was involved. Thus, The Last Full Measure is very sincere in this matter and helps create a gesture of projecting such horrors and causes in a proper and respectable light that neither shys away from it, but never makes it out of proportions for theatrical effect. Plus, the heart of the feature remains intact and certainly the tale of Scott’s journey to uncover the truth behind Pitsenbarger’s tale and the road of getting the Medal of Honor is one of meaningful prose to like about the feature.
The Last Full Measure is a pretty good within its presentation. Of course, the movie doesn’t reach the same level of dramatic war features, but it is still enough to showcase well-made feature film that doesn’t look “skimpy” on setting textures, filmmaking techniques, and believability in its story. Thus, the various “behind the scenes” team members throughout the feature certainly do give a good job in the movie, which does meet the “industry standard” for such drama films. This also includes some of the various scenes that are showcased in the past, which are gritty and feel grounded and definitely bring the grimness of the Vietnam war to the proceedings. This is when the cinematography work by Byron Werner comes into light and definitely shines in these sequences. Lastly, the film’s score, which was composed by Philip Klein, does a pretty good job in evoking plenty of emotional weight to the feature’s narrative.
There are a few problems that I had with the movie that, while still compelling and engaging to watch, makes The Last Full Measure have a few blemishes within its undertaking. Perhaps the one that is the most noticeable in the movie is how the feature actually unfolds and the narrative path that Robinson takes. Even without doing any real-life research into Pitsenbarger’s story, it’s quite easy to see where the movie is going to ahead, especially right from the get-go of the film’s opening. That’s not to say that the movie is boring and / or mundane is presentation (by no means), but the narrative’s progression of events (i.e. setbacks and milestones) are very predictable and formulaic to the touch. Thus, while the ending will have a resounding conclusion, it’s a conclusion that can be easily seeing miles away and one that seems a bit conventional for a “feel good” feature such as this. In truth, the film’s whole story (from opening to end credits) reminded me of 2015’s Woman in Gold, which I did like, but drew criticisms for being the same narrative premise and familiar plot beats. If one takes a look at both films, the parallels are quite similar to each other and it becomes apparent that both suffer from the general predictability of their respective narrative outcomes. Again, its not bad, but nothing groundbreaking or original and Robinson keeps everything on a predictable level.
Additionally, the movie has abundance of side characters and, while many of them make the larger portion of the feature’s narrative, most of them are pretty scant on character development beyond a few plot points here and there. This is most apparent in the film’s third act, which (into itself) is rather rushed. With the movie having a runtime of 116 minutes long, the movie takes a lot of the first two acts with heavy emphasis, while the third act gets shortchanged and feels hurried in the political “red tape” aspects of Huffman’s journey of getting Pitsenbarger’s honor. As a final criticism, while I liked the movie, it kind of felt a little bit like a TV movie (at times) than a theatrical feature film.
The cast in The Last Full Measure is pretty good and, while there not some of the most “crème la crème” of today’s A-list acting talents, they still are better than most and certainly lend their seasoned acting talents throughout the feature’s story. Leading the charge for the movie is actor Sebastian Stan, who plays the central protagonist character of Scott Huffman. Known for his roles in the MCU as Bucky Barnes (i.e. Captain America: The First Avenger, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Captain America: Civil War) as well as his roles in I, Tonya and The Martian, Stan has been notoriously utilized in most of his roles as a supporting character role; acting as a secondary character throughout many projects and bolstering the main leads. In this movie, however, Stan gets the chance to flex his leading acting muscle with the role of Scott Huffman and he certainly does a pretty good job. The characterization of Scott Huffman is rather straight-forward and rather predictable, but Stan certainly makes the character his own and endearing from start to finish; making its easy to root for Scott’s journey from onset to conclusion. Connected to the character of Scott Huffman, actress Alison Sudol (Fantastic Beast and Where to Find Them and Transparent) plays the part of Scott’s wife, Tara Huffman. Though Sudol is a talented actress, the character of Tara is rather conventional and ends up being the stereotypical “concerned” wife to the main protagonist. Probably one of the weaker characters on the project.
In more of supporting roles in the film are the various soldiers that make up Pitsenbarger’s veteran soldiers (both young and old) as each one has their own personal story to tell and how they connect to Pitsenbarger’s story and how they interact with Scott Huffman’s characters. This includes character actors such as actor William Hurt (A History of Violence and Lost in Space) as Tom Tulley, actor Ethan Russell (White Dwarf and A Stand Up Guy) as the younger version of Tom Tulley, actor Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction and The Hateful Eight) as Billy Takoda, actor Ser’Darius Blain (Charmed and Jumanji: The Next Level) as the younger version of Billy Takoda, actor Peter Fonda (Easy Rider and 3:10 to Yuma) in his late role before passing in 2019 as Jimmy Burr, actor James Jagger (Vinyl and Gangster Kittens) as the younger version of Jimmy Burr, actor Ed Harris (The Rock and Apollo 13) as Ray Mott, actor Zach Roerig (The Vampire Diaries and Rings) as the younger version of Ray Mott, actor John Savage (The Thin Red Line and Torque) as Chauncy Kepper, actor Cody Walker (Shadow Wolves and In the Rough) as the younger version of Chauncy Kepper, actor Dale Dye (Platoon and Under Siege) as Holt, and actor Richard Cawthorne (Noise and Upgrade) as the younger version of Holt. All of these individuals certainly do their respective parts in a well-manner way that makes their film characters real, despite most being relatively commonplace personas for military drama features. As a side-note, actor Jeremy Irvine (War Horse and Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again) does a good job in the role of William H. Pitsenbarger. Though we (as the viewers) get only glimpse of him in various flashbacks sequences, Irvine has enough screen presence to make the character memorable in the movie.
Rounding out the rest of the cast includes actor Bradley Whitford (The West Wing and Get Out) as Scott Huffman’s co-worker Carlton Stanford, actor Linus Roache (Vikings and Batman Begins) as Whit Peters, actress Amy Madigan (Field of Dreams and Gone Baby Gone) as Jimmy Burr’s wife, Donna Burr, and actor Christopher Plummer (The Sound of Music and All the Money in the World) and actress Diane Ladd (Wild at Heart and Joy) as Pitsenbarger’s elderly parents, Frank and Alice Pitsenbarger. All of these individuals, though minor in their capacity, lend their acting talents beautifully in their respective roles.
The ultimate sacrifice deserves the highest honor as Scott Huffman uncovers and fights for a fallen soldier’s memory / honor in the movie The Last Full Measure. Director Todd Robinson latest film dissects the lives of one particular fallen soldier’s life and how his action impacted the lives of several individuals, which can be easily reflected upon any soldier (alive or dead) during one of the many wars throughout history. While the feature treads into familiar territory of being predictable (as well as a rushed third act), the movie still shines due to the palpable narrative being told, the thematical message of veteran soldiers of life after war, and a solid / respectable cast. Personally, I liked this movie. Yes, it’s a bit predictable and easy to figure where the movie ultimate is going to end up, but the journey (though formulaic) is still quite moving and enjoyable with a cinematic treatment that reaches a resounding ending that will please many fans out there. A definitely “crowd pleaser” if you know what I mean. Thus, my recommendation for this movie is a solid “highly recommended” as it’s a film that will definitely please many out there and deserves a compelling praise. Overall, The Last Full Measure, though predictable in nature, is still a wholesome endeavor; one that salutes unsung heroes such as William H. Pitsenbarger, but to all who gave up something / did acts of valor during their time in military service. And to that…I salute you all.
4.2 Out of 5 (Highly Recommended)
Released On: January 24th, 2020
Reviewed On: June 5th, 2020
The Last Full Measure is 116 minutes and is rated R for war violence and language