Based on a true story of bravery during one of the “bloodiest days” of the Vietnam War, the movie begins thirty-two years later when Pentagon staffer Scott Huffman (Sebastien Stan) takes a meeting with Master Sergeant Thomas Tully, Air Force Rescue, retired (William Hurt). Tully wants Huffman’s help to posthumously upgrade U.S. Air Force Pararescuemen William H. Pitsenbarger’s (Jeremy Irvine) Air Force Cross medal to a Medal of Honor, America’s highest and most prestigious personal military decoration. Huffman, an ambitious Department of Defence lawyer, thinks it is a waste of time but is ordered to, “take a few days and collect some war stories,” by his boss Carlton Stanton (Bradley Whitford).
His research connects him with survivors of the battle, U.S. Army’s 1st Infantry Division soldiers Takoda (Samuel L. Jackson), Burr (Peter Fonda) and Mott (Ed Harris), men whose lives were saved by Pitsenbarger. At first he regards their stories as an exercise in “post traumatic exorcism” but soon comes to realize that Pitsenbarger made what Abraham Lincoln called “gave the last full measure of devotion” to help men he didn’t know. By bravely inserting himself into the middle of an ambush he saved over sixty soldiers, losing his life in the process and yet was not awarded the military’s highest honor. With the support of Pitsenbarger’s parents (Christopher Plummer & Diane Ladd), Huffman risks his professional life to go ona journey of self-discovery and uncover a conspiracy that extends to the highest reaches of power at the Pentagon.
Told in flashbacks to the fateful day on the battlefield, “The Last Full Measure” is part detective story, part examination of what it means to be a soldier. Huffman’s interviews reveal men troubled by the events of a life time ago, riddled with PTSD, unable to sleep or function in regular society. Tully, in particular is wracked by survivor’s guilt, the feeling that he didn’t do enough while Pitsenbarger gave his all. These scenes aren’t subtle but what they lack in finesse they make up for in sheer thought-provoking power.
The film’s strength may be as a conversation starter regarding the psychological price soldiers pay when they return from war. But as well-intentioned as the film’s messages of respect for the sacrifices of the fallen are, “The Last Full Measure” succumbs to melodrama at almost every turn. Clichéd, tough guy dialogue and characters that feel more like a collection of tics than actual fully rounded people, detract from the film’s serious message.