Review: The Last Full Measure is comfort food about wartime death

Todd Robinson’s paean to military service is as safe and reassuring as possible


THE LAST FULL MEASURE (Todd Robinson). 110 minutes. Opens Friday (January 24). See listing. Rating: NN


Usually, a movie like The Last Full Measure would arrive on Memorial Day or Veteran’s Day in the U.S., slipping into the public consciousness as part of a larger conversation about war and sacrifice. 

For some reason, Todd Robinson’s square-jawed paean to military service – Courage Under Fire without the moral ambiguity, Hacksaw Ridge without the gore – is arriving in mid-January. Maybe it’s been thrown into theatres to ride the coattails of Sam Mendes’s 1917, another film in which a young man thrusts himself into increasingly hopeless circumstances so he might save his fellow soldiers. I can’t say. I only know that 1917, for all of its flaws, is a film that dreads war and trembles at the thought of dying in battle, and The Last Full Measure is considerably less conflicted. 

The Last Full Measure is a movie about military service in the same way God’s Not Dead, Risen and Breakthrough are movies about God: it’ll be a lot more effective if you already have faith in its subject. (It’s even framed as the story of an unbeliever who comes to see the light, the preferred structure of most faith-based narratives.) 

Inspired by the attempts to get Air Force pararescue jumper William H. Pitsenbarger a posthumous Medal of Honor for his efforts to save lives during a Vietnam firefight in 1966, it’s set mostly in 1999 and 2000, where cynical Pentagon staffer Scott Huffman (Sebastian Stan) takes up the cause at the urging of one of Pitsenbarger’s comrades (William Hurt) and spends months collecting testimonials from other veterans (Samuel L. Jackson, Ed Harris, John Savage and, in his final screen role, Peter Fonda) and the dead man’s parents (Christopher Plummer, Diane Ladd). 

It’s a commendable showcase for actors who aren’t given the chance to do a lot of acting these days – Hurt and Harris are as good as I’ve ever seen them, Jackson brings a bitter humour to his underwritten role and Plummer sells the hell out of a speech about sending his boy off to war that’s basically a homily. But it’s also one of those movies where everything is as safe and comforting as possible.

Nothing is ever truly at risk the only real obstacle is political calculation, in the form of Bradley Whitford’s snarky ladder-climber, and even the dead hero – played in flashback by Treadstone’s Jeremy Irvine – is venerated for his Christlike self-sacrifice. It’s comfort food about wartime death. If that’s what you’re looking for, have at it.

@normwilner

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