The Last Full Measure (Digital HD)
One of the great heroes of the Vietnam War gets his due in The Last Full Measure. Here's our review!
Family and friends fight to recognize the sacrifice of Air Force Pararescueman William Pitsenbarger, who saved dozens of lives in the Vietnam War. Stars Sebastian Stan, William Hurt, Christopher Plummer, Diane Ladd, Bradley Whitford, Peter Fonda, Ed Harris, Amy Madigan, and Samuel L. Jackson. Written and directed by Todd Robinson.
Based on true events, The Last Full Measure is an effective true-life military drama buoyed by a superb cast and excellent performances.
At a time when war films often highlight the darkest sides of human nature, The Last Full Measure is a throwback of sorts. It is a reverent tale of heroism and sacrifice, as well as an exploration of the emotional burden soldiers carry home.
The film tells the true story of the heroic sacrifice of William Pitsenbarger during the Battle of Xa Cam in the Vietnam War, and the subsequent fight to award him the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Sebastian Stan plays Scott Huffman, an ambitious Pentagon bureaucrat in the 1990s tasked with investigating a request to give Pitsenbarger the Medal of Honor. In doing so, Huffman interviews the men who served with Pitsenbarger, and the events of the battle are seen through flashbacks.
Stan’s character and his investigation are fictional, but there actually was a push to get Pitsenbarger the Medal of Honor in the late 1990s, and the story of his heroics as depicted in the film is surprisingly accurate.
Although Stan leads the narrative, he is mostly a means to introduce us to the actors that truly carry the emotional weight of the film. Jeremy Irvine (War Horse, “Treadstone”) plays Pitsenbarger, and he’s quite good portraying his character’s earnest heroism. Surprisingly, he doesn’t get as much screen time as you would expect, but when he does, he makes an impact.
William Hurt plays a veteran leading the push to recognize Pitsenbarger, and as you might expect, he gives the right resonance to the role. He brings the viewer in emotionally, allowing them to connect with the cause he’s fighting for.
Christopher Plummer and Diane Ladd appear as Pitsenbarger’s parents, and Plummer in particular is devastating as a father haunted by the loss of his only son. It’s amazing to see that even though he is now 90, he is still able to command the screen and give a powerful performance.
Also in the cast – in limited roles – are Samuel L. Jackson, Ed Harris, Amy Madigan, Bradley Whitford, and John Savage. It’s an impressive roster to add to an already stellar cast, and each are excellent in their roles.
The film also marks the final performance of Peter Fonda, who died of cancer in August of 2019. Fonda gives a solid performance, although it is a bit odd to see a 60s rebel icon now playing a Vietnam veteran. It does provide, perhaps, a fitting “full circle” to his acting career.
With so many great actors on board, it seems writer/director Todd Robinson tried a bit too hard to ensure every character had their “moment.” When each actor appears on-screen, they often deliver a dramatic monologue that allows them to show off their acting chops.
It’s understandable that Robinson wanted to give these actors – many of whom get limited screen time – a chance to make an impact. However, the dialogue is often a bit melodramatic, explaining things in a way no normal person would. It not only feels inauthentic (which is the last thing a historical drama should do), it slows down the narrative.
The true story itself is compelling enough on its own merits, but Robinson at times lays on the theatrics a bit thick. It treads painfully close to melodrama, but thankfully, the actors elevate an otherwise average script above the cliches and overreaching dialogue.
Sadly, with so many great actors delivering good performances, the one character who gets overlooked is Pitsenbarger himself. In addition to limited screen time, director Robinson falls short of depicting his sacrifice with the proper emotional impact. He also adds a political subplot that not only obstructs the narrative, it’s unnecessary, as it didn’t actually happen in real life.
Even though the film relies on many of the basic storytelling pillars of war films, The Last Full Measure manages to feel fresh, while giving the story the reverence it deserves. The story is compelling, and the performances from all involved make it all quite watchable.
Perhaps the best part of the film comes during the credits, when the real-life veterans of the battle tell their stories. They also appear in the film’s final scene.
To learn more about William Pitsenbarger’s story and the differences between his true story and the dramatized film, click here to visit History vs. Hollywood’s coverage of the movie. We highly recommend you do. It will increase your appreciation of the film.
VIDEO AND AUDIO
The HD video for the digital version of the film is spot-on, with excellent detail throughout. Streaming video often has varying degrees of quality, but I had absolutely no complaints, and found it on par with the quality found on a Blu-ray disc. Of course, your video quality may be affected by the bandwidth of your internet provider.
Colors are reproduced faithfully, with reds and blues that are deep and rich, and natural skin tones. Blacks and grays look solid. The flashback sequences depicting battle are a bit desaturated, but smoke is pixelation-free and consistent.
The Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 track offers an immersive sound environment, punctuated by outstanding bass during the battle scenes in particular. Sharp clarity and excellent channel separation provide an above-average listening experience.
Although my review version of the Digital HD film contains no special features, Lionsgate does include these bonus features on the Blu-ray.
- “The Women of The Last Full Measure” Featurette
- “Medal of Honor Ceremony Shoot” Featurette
- “The Others May Live: Remembering Operation Abilene” Featurette
- “USAF Museaum Screening with Veterans & Pitsenbarger Family” Featurette
- “The Music of The Last Full Measure” Featurette
- “William Pitsenbarger Tribute” Photo Gallery
DIGITAL HD SPECS
- Release Date: April 7, 2020
- Rating: R (Violence and language)
- Running Time: 116 minutes
- Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
- Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
- Subtitles: Spanish, English for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing
- Label: Lionsgate
- MSRP: $24.99