A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Last Full Measure is based on the true story of Air Force Pararescueman William H. Pitsenbarger (Jeremy Irvine). His incredible sacrifice during a Vietnam War mission took 32 years to acknowledge with a Medal of Honor, the highest military decoration awarded for an act of valor. The Vietnam sequences feature bloody war violence, including gunfire, explosions, close-ups of dire/fatal injuries, and dozens of dead soldiers on both sides. Adults smoke and drink, and strong language is fairly frequent, particularly "f--k," "s--t," "bulls--t," and the occasional "a--hole," "goddamn," and "Jesus." The movie explores mature themes related to war, military service, how veterans are treated when they return from active duty, and the politicized nature of medals/war decorations. Sebastian Stan stars as a (fictional) Pentagon official tasked in the 1990s with investigating the late Pitsenbarger's acts.
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What's the story?
THE LAST FULL MEASURE is based on a true story of the three-decades-long battle to award late Air Force Pararescueman William H. Pitsenbarger (Jeremy Irvine) the Congressional Medal of Honor for his act of valor during the Vietnam War. In 1966, Pitsenbarger, then 21, was on a helicopter mission to rescue injured Army soldiers caught in an ambush outside of Saigon. But instead of leaving with his helicopter to reach relative safety, Pitsenbarger elected to stay with the infantrymen and attend to their casualties -- and later died from his extraordinary efforts. In the late '90s, a group of veterans who were saved that day join Pitsenbarger's parents (Christopher Plummer and Diane Ladd) in requesting a Medal of Honor for him. To investigate the issue, the Pentagon sends ambitious young civilian Scott Huffman (Sebastian Stan) to interview survivors about Pitsenbarger's act of bravery and decide whether there's enough merit to upgrade the posthumous decoration.
Is it any good?
This well-intentioned, well-acted biographical drama tells a worthy story but suffers from formulaic dialogue and a surprisingly preachy script. Writer-director Todd Robinson's version of the events also includes inaccuracies about the reasons it took more than three decades for Pitsenbarger to receive his due. Stan's character is made up, too, but at least he serves the purpose of introducing the case and its merits. The movie's biggest problems stem from the overly didactic scripting. The acting is fine: William Hurt plays the older version of the helicopter pilot who agrees to leave Pits behind; Samuel L. Jackson is the infantry officer who blames himself for the ambush; Ed Harris is one of the Army soldiers Pits saves; and, in his final role, the late Peter Fonda plays a survivor suffering from lifelong PTSD. Unfortunately, what this esteemed group of older actors has to say doesn't always ring true: Everything feels like a poetic soliloquy on war and its traumatic impact on veterans.
This is inarguably an important story that deserves to be told. But it might better lend itself to feature-length documentary, because in The Last Full Measure it's hard to tell what really happened and what's creative license. Even real-life Medal of Honor winners have said there was much more to the story (but also that they're happy the movie had been made). There's no need for the flourishes of melodrama -- the telling of Pitsenbarger's incredible sacrifice is compelling enough. It's simply a shame the movie's good intentions and important source material aren't matched by the execution of the filmmaking.
Talk to your kids about ...
What distinguishes surviving an injury in wartime from an act of extraordinary courage? What makes Pits' sacrifice deserving of the Medal of Honor? Why is it significant that he's one of only three enlisted Air Force recruits to receive the top military award?
The filmmakers took creative license with this fact-based story, from adding fictional characters to including inaccurate details about Operation Abilene. Why do you think they made those choices? Does a film inspired by real events need to be the reported truth? Why or why not?
Does the movie make you want to learn more about the Vietnam War, Medal of Honor recipients, or Air Force Pararescuemen?
- In theaters: January 24, 2020
- On DVD or streaming: April 14, 2020
- Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Christopher Plummer, Sebastian Stan, Jeremy Irvine
- Director: Todd Robinson
- Studio: Lionsgate
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: History
- Run time: 110 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: war violence, and language
- Last updated: March 19, 2021
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