Review by Sean Boelman
Based on an inspiring true story, The Last Full Measure is a new war drama film showing the tremendous impact that a single person can have on the world and the people around them. While the movie does have a tremendously positive message, and a very talented cast, the script is sadly too convoluted for it to be as good as it should have been.
The film tells the story of a Pentagon staffer who is assigned to investigate a posthumous Medal of Honor request, sending him on a journey to interview the many people whose lives were changed by the heroism of one American soldier. This movie benefits from being less jingoistic than most Vietnam War dramas, part of the film acting as a criticism of the American government’s poor treatment towards its veterans, though writer-director Todd Robinson can’t seem to find the right balance to make the movie strike its intended chord.
Ultimately, the message of the film is that one person can make a huge difference, whether by saving lives or simply listening to a person’s story, and this can lead to a great deal of growth as an individual. However, Robinson does not approach this movie with any element of subtlety, with a well-intentioned but on-the-nose first act and a preachy finale. The result is a film that feels frustratingly artificial.
Arguably the biggest issue with Robinson’s movie is that the script is too disorganized. Within the script is a fascinating story, but Robinson’s overbearing use of flashbacks drags down the film’s stronger elements. These portions of the movie, many of which are redundant as they are later explained via expository dialogue, feel like they are trying to force excitement into the film when the testimony of the characters is already interesting enough.
Since the movie is centered around an investigation, it follows the protagonist as he interviews different people who knew the honoree. From his fellow battalion members to his parents, the protagonist is exposed to different perspectives as to who Pitsenbarger was, but all of them lead to the same conclusion: that he was a hero. In fact, these assertions are so convincing that seeing him in battle is rather pointless and creates an unnecessarily jarring shift in tone.
These people in Pitsenbarger’s life are played by a phenomenal cast of talented actors, and they do a very good job in their roles. Ed Harris, William Hurt, Christopher Plummer, and Samuel L. Jackson are among the people who have these smaller supporting roles, and they do a very good job of commanding the audience’s attention. That said, the two Washington bureaucrats played by Sebastian Stan and Bradley Whitford have the most meaty scenes, and Stan and Whitford play them quite well.
On a technical level, the film is relatively straightforward, shot in a way like any other modestly-budgeted military drama. The war sequences are underwhelming at times, as they feel like an afterthought, a majority of the movie’s budget seemingly having been spent on securing A-list actors for the character-driven portion of the story.
There are definitely some very good things happening in The Last Full Measure, but they never come together into a satisfying whole. With some of the flashbacks trimmed out, this film could have been much more lean and effective, but as is, it is a passable drama that will likely offer just enough to satisfy older crowds.
The Last Full Measure opens in theaters on January 24.