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The Last Full Measure review - exceptional performances elevate middling Vietnam war drama | reviews, news & interviews

The Last Full Measure review - exceptional performances elevate middling Vietnam war drama

The Last Full Measure review - exceptional performances elevate middling Vietnam war drama

Peter Fonda's final performance bolsters true tale of heroism in conflict

Jeremy Irving as the late William H. Pitsenbarger

It’s impossible to deny the sincerity with which Todd Robinson has approached the true story of William H.

It’s impossible to deny the sincerity with which Todd Robinson has approached the true story of William H. Pitsenbarger, a US Air Force Pararescueman who was killed in action while rescuing over 60 injured soldiers during one of the bloodiest conflicts in the Vietnam war

The set-up is familiar for films of this ilk. Sebastian Stan is Scott Huffman, a cynical Capitol Hill careerist in the Department of Defence who gets landed with a job he doesn’t want. Whilst trying to climb the political ladder he’s cornered by a Vietnam vet (William Hurt), who asks him to get his fallen comrade posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.  

Huffman reluctantly agrees, visiting old comrades played by a veteran stellar cast including the late Peter Fonda (in his final performance), Ed Harris, and Samuel L. Jackson. He also meets Pitsensbarger’s parents, played by Christopher Plummer and Diane Ladd, whom he discovers have been tirelessly campaigning for three decades to get the medal awarded. Slowly but surely, Huffman starts to awaken to the possibility that the world is bigger than himself. Samuel L Jackson in The Last Full Measure The plotting of Robinson’s film might be heartfelt but the plot mechanics clunk and creak, falling into TV movie territory. Even with the stellar cast, it diminishes the overall impact of this remarkable tale of heroism.

The majority of the plot takes place in the late 90s, flashing back to 1966. The flashbacks palpably capture the chaos and carnage of the operation, with Jeremy Irving playing Pitsenbarger. It’s a solid, earnest performance, although he doesn’t have much to do. 

We learn more about Pitsenbarger through the recollections of the survivors, each of whom disclose personal reasons for wanting their fallen brother to be honoured. Some hit home more than others, but it’s Fonda playing a PTSD sufferer who steals the show. As a final performance it’s a fine testament to the actor’s skill. 

Then there’s William Hurt, who in the final third delivers a moving performance that is some of the best work he’s done in a very distinguished career. Jackson also delivers the goods with his own flair and style. Their collective performances give an emotional weight to the story that the script fails to deliver. 

Apart from the cast, Robinson does craft one exceptional scene between Stan and Hurt, exploring the relationship of trauma, time and place, and how the horrors of the past can be healed. It’s a lesson that has sharp pertinence at the moment. 

The Last Full Measure treads familiar territory. However, it often attempts to overtly elicit an emotional reaction without putting in the groundwork. In the pantheon of Vietnam movies, The Last Full Measure is no great shakes, but the collective performances of the veteran cast are worth their weight in gold.

@JosephDAWalsh

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