‘The Last Full Measure’ review: star-studded Vietnam War drama wastes its Hollywood veterans

How can a film starring Samuel L. Jackson, Christopher Plummer and Ed Harris be this dull?

The words ‘based on a true story’ are sometimes expected to do a lot of narrative heavy lifting, as if the very realness of the story means it is inherently interesting and cinematic. That’s the case with The Last Full Measure, a movie that puts a lot of effort into trying to make a real life story compelling but can never heave it beyond ‘sympathetic but dull’.

In the Vietnam War, U.S. Airforce Pararescueman William ‘PJ’ Pitsenberger (Jeremy Irvine) saved the lives of many in his division. Years later, one of the men he saved, Tully (William Hurt), petitions a young, ambitious Pentagon suit, Scott Huffman (Sebastian Stan), to help upgrade Pitsenberger to a Medal of Honor, the highest available military decoration. Not particularly interested in the task, Huffman nevertheless goes ahead and learns the story of a great man and a great injustice that smothered his memory.

The film is full of terrific veteran actors – Hurt, Samuel L. Jackson, Christopher Plummer, Ed Harris, Peter Fonda (in his final role) – but it relies almost wholly on their collective heft to give the story weight. The script, by Todd Robinson, who also directs, is full of ripe dialogue, seemingly designed to give everyone at least ‘one big scene’, but it needed a lot more work put into establishing the characters rather than giving them juicy things to say.

The story cuts between Huffman’s investigation and scenes of young PJ and his division enduring hell in Vietnam. They fit together awkwardly, with the much younger cast, through no real fault of their own, less able to smooth out the lumps in the script. Those scenes feel repetitive and rather than give an extra dimension to the older men, they flatten them a little instead.

The Last Full Measure
Sebastian Stan stars as Scott Huffman in ‘The Last Full Measure’. Credit: Parkland Entertainment

There is good stuff here – much more could have been made of the unheard fury of men sent to a war the country tried to forget – but Robinson is so reverent, so self-consciously respectful, that his film is stuffy and muted. It’s a treat to see so many screen legends in one cast; it’s just a shame they weren’t given something more worthy of their talents.

Details

  • Director: Todd Robinson
  • Starring: Sebastian Stan, William Hurt, Samuel L. Jackson
  • Release date: June 1 (Digital)
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