4 out of 5 stars
The Vietnam War was a turning point for the world because it was the first war to be brought into homes through the medium of television. The horrors of war were seen by audiences in living rooms around the globe. Yet, for every image seen by viewers, there were a multitude of battles that were not and many soldiers may have hoped they were forgotten. Except for a horrific firefight that occurred on April 11, 1966, that involved the heroism of U.S. Air Force Pararescueman William H. Pitsenbarger (Jeremy Irvine).
On that fateful day in the jungles of Vietnam, the U.S. Army's 1st Infantry Division found themselves pinned down in an ambush. The soldiers quickly realised their dire situation as the number of casualties and wounded began to line the floor of the battlefield, including their medic. Airman Pitsenbarger (known as Pits) was on a chopper that had come to assist in getting the men out of danger. He chose to be dropped into the fight to help. His actions led to saving the lives of over sixty men, but led the young man to make the ultimate sacrifice for his fellow men and country. He was posthumously awarded the Air Force Cross for his act of valour, but the soldiers he saved felt that he deserved the U.S. military’s highest honour, the Medal of Honour.
This request continued over 34 years and was passed on through multiple administrations until it found itself on the desk of Pentagon staffer Scott Huffman (Sebastian Stan). Even though he saw it as a thankless job with little benefit for the advancement of his own career, he begrudgingly investigates the events. Scott eventually gets to know and respect the men who wanted to see Pits honoured. The young lawyer began to realise the importance of this project as he interviewed each man involved. From Pits fellow airman, Tully (William Hurt), to the infantrymen like Takoda (Samuel L. Jackson), Burr (Peter Fonda) and Mott (Ed Harris), each had something to add to the case to honour Pits. Especially once he came to meet and befriend Pitsenbarger’s parents, played by Christopher Plummer and Diane Ladd, this moved from a workplace task to a passion for justice to be served.
The Last Full Measure could get quickly buried in amongst the long list of wartime films that come across every year. Similar to the long-suffering work of the soldiers that worked to get Airman Pitsenbarger honoured, this is a film that should garner more attention than it did in cinemas. The outstanding cast helps to support this fantastic story that should not be left to a mere historical footnote.
The production does feel a bit forced and formulaic at times, but each individual performance manages to bring together a compelling tale of heroism. Sebastian Stan is the common thread that helps to weave each of the stories together and helps to make an administrative task into a journey of historical significance. A celebration of the sacrificial and short life of William H. Pitsenbarger that deserved recognition. One that took over three decades to be fully acknowledged, something that could be said about all of our Vietnam veterans.
Do not allow this story to be left behind and forgotten. It could be passed over quickly as just another war film, but that would be unfortunate. Pits’ story does contain the ravages of war, the suffering of those who fought in it and exceptional grief of those he left behind. Still, this is one of those special moments where we can honour those who sacrificed for others and for the freedoms many of us take for granted. Thank you, U.S. Air Force Pararescueman William H. Pitsenbarger and all who have served in the armed forces.
REEL DIALOGUE: How do you define a hero?
This is a question that can take on a multitude of answers. From the fictional character to the unsung humble members of our community, the label of hero can cut across cultures, genders, ages and nations.
Hero: a person noted for courageous acts or nobility of character
This broad definition can be placed on many individuals throughout history. Still, there is only one person who truly fits into this without blemish. One whose courageous act was enough to save the world. It is hard to look past Jesus as the true definition of a hero. All others pale in comparison, not to diminish their value, but merely to point to the one who set the standard for true heroism.
Passages on defining heroes: Mark 9:35, John 15:3, John 3:17, and the Gospel of Luke