Military movies always have a heartstring-tugging quality to them. It doesn’t matter the subject matter or what war it deals with, the emotional devastation is universal, even if one is removed from the war by many years or if one wasn’t born anywhere near the time of the war. Such is the case of The Last Full Measure. The bulk of this film takes place between the years of 1999 and 2000, but it also focuses on the Vietnam War, one of the bloodiest and deadliest wars we’ve seen. While I am far removed from both of those times, the emotions were raw and front and center. The Last Full Measure isn’t a war story, though we do still see Operation Abilene in blood-soaked flashbacks. The Last Full Measure is a story of courage and what soldiers leave behind when they don’t come home.
In September 1999, Pentagon staffer Scott Huffman (Sebastian Stan) meets with Master Sergeant Thomas Tulley (William Hurt) who is trying to get a posthumous Medal of Honor for William H. Pitsenbarger, a soldier who lost his life saving nearly 60 men in the middle of the Vietnamese jungle and in the middle of a firefight with Viet Cong fighters. Pitsenbarger originally received the Air Force Cross, which was downgraded from a Medal of Honor, but Tulley has spent the last 35 years trying to get the honor upgraded and rightfully restored.
At first, Scott tries to pawn off the review. He has no interest in it and his boss has just quit and he has other things to handle like an appropriations bill. But his boss, Carl Stanton (Bradley Whitford) tells him to do this job and he’ll find a place for Scott. So, Scott travels to gather testimony from the people Pits saved and helped. As he gathers these men’s stories, and as he meets and grows closer to Pits’ parents (Christopher Plummer and Diane Ladd), Scott’s outlook on life changes and he finds himself willing to risk his job so the truth will come to light.
I’ll be honest and say that that this film isn’t doing anything spectacular with the way it’s been filmed. The cinematography is generic and suits the purpose of telling the story. Besides, what matters is the acting and the story anyway. Anything too flashy would have distracted from how affecting and emotional the film is. The character arcs in The Last Full Measure are the most important by a long shot and Scott is the one most affected by Pits and his story.
Stan is kind of sidetracked in the film. He’s more of a supporting character than the main character, but Scott is the lynchpin and the one who brings all the characters together in this emotional story. Not only that, but we see how his life changes as a result of going on this journey. Yes, the people who Pits saved are important and we see how they are still haunted by the war and their experiences but no one grows as much as Scott does. At the beginning of the film, he’s brash and gruff and doesn’t seem like he gives a damn in any aspect of his life, but Pits’ story is affecting. In a way, Stan is the audience stand-in and while it might not work in many films, for The Last Full Measure, it works.
Overall, The Last Full Measure will make you cry, but it might not be very memorable. It’s an emotional film and it tells an incredible true story, but the script and filmmaking techniques are generic. The only saving grace is the performances from the cast and maybe that’s all that’s needed for a story such as this one.