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Sebastian Stan, left, plays an ambitious Pentagon bureaucrat Scott Huffman, with Bradley Whitford, right, in The Last Full Measure.

Courtesy of Roadside Attractions

  • The Last Full Measure
  • Written and directed by Todd Robinson
  • Starring Sebastian Stan, Christopher Plummer, William Hurt, Ed Harris, Samuel L. Jackson, Jeremy Irvine, Peter Fonda
  • Classification 14A
  • 116 mins

rating

Ed Harris stars as a war veterans being questioned about Operation Abilene.

Courtesy of Roadside Attractions

The Last Full Measure borrows its title from Abraham Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address, in which the American president paid tribute to fallen soldiers, asking that their sacrifices be remembered so that they would not have died in vain.

Written and directed by Todd Robinson (Phantom, Lonely Hearts) and starring a who’s who of Hollywood heavyweights such as Samuel L. Jackson, Ed Harris, Sebastian Stan and Christopher Plummer, this homage to Vietnam War veterans comes with its own mission – to set the record straight about a real war hero almost forgotten in the annals of history. In giving U.S. Air Force pararescueman William H. Pitsenbarger (Jeremy Irvine) his due, The Last Full Measure occasionally meanders into the maudlin, reined in by a cast that lends some gravity to the melodrama.

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Arriving in theatres this weekend: The Gentlemen, Color out of Space and The Last Full Measure

The movie uses a well-worn narrative structure to flesh out the story of Pitsenbarger, whose peers refer to as “Pits.” Ambitious Pentagon bureaucrat Scott Huffman (Sebastian Stan) is saddled with the task of investigating a Medal of Honor request made by Pits’s best friend and air rescue partner Tom Tulley (William Hurt).

Samuel L. Jackson plays prickly war veteran Billy Takoda.

Courtesy of Roadside Attractions

Despite his annoyance at what seems like being handed a menial task, Huffman sets out to meet Pits’s parents (played with charm by Christopher Plummer and Diane Ladd), who tell him that in order to understand the significance of Pits’s action during Operation Abilene, “you’ll need to talk to the mud soldiers.”

But getting prickly war veterans Billy Takoda (Samuel L. Jackson), Jimmy Burr (Peter Fonda, in his last role), Ray Mott (Ed Harris) and Kepper (John Savage) to speak on the record isn’t easy – partly because the war vets carry emotional scars that linger long after their physical wounds have healed, and partly because no one wants to talk about Operation Abilene, “one of the bloodiest battles of the Vietnam War.”

We get to see Pits’s valour in a series of flashbacks, as he descends from the rescue helicopter at first to help evacuate wounded soldiers, but then sticking around when he sees the devastation around him. What went wrong with Operation Abilene provides a plot line with a conspiracy angle, meant to move the action forward.

Alison Sudol, right, plays the wife of Sebastian Stan's Scott Huffman.

Courtesy of Roadside Attractions

“Medals are given so that we remember the stories,” Mott gruffly remarks to Huffman at one point. Except the memories end up confusing the account. By the time we finally figure out what went wrong with Operation Abilene, it feels like a bit of a red herring.

The Last Full Measure is clearly a passion project for Robinson. It took him almost 20 years to make it, a decade short of the time it took for Pits’s colleagues to finally get him that Medal of Honor. Unfortunately, the movie is riddled with clichés that are meant to move an audience – contrived dialogue, soaring background score, tug-your-heart moments with Huffman’s young son.

The stellar cast manages to dignify some of it. And it’s the grizzled war veterans’ experiences that stay with you afterwards, the personal demons they keep on fighting. As the credits roll, you get to hear some of the first-hand testimony of Pits’s real-life brothers-in-arms. By fictionalizing Pits’s story, Robinson added unnecessary drama to the story. It also leaves you wondering: How much of this story is actually true?

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Last Full Measure opens across Canada on January 24

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