Solid cast, but soldier tale needs to realign its focus

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A Washington, D.C., pencil pusher learns the true meaning of valor and sacrifice in "The Last Full Measure," an earnest but mishandled tale of battlefield bravery. 

The film tells the true story of William H. Pitsenbarger, a Vietnam war hero and U.S. Air Force Pararescuemen who was posthumously awarded a Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military decoration. Pitsenbarger died in combat after saving more than 60 men, though it took more than three decades for his sacrifice to be fully acknowledged by the U.S. government.  

Pitsenbarger's story is told through Scott Huffman (Sebastian Stan), a Department of Defense staffer, which is a shortcoming of the script by writer-director Todd Robinson.

The closest Huffman ever was to battle was on a gaming platform, but he's tasked with following up on a Medal of Honor request on Pitsenbarger's behalf, which brings him to Ohio where he interviews Pitsenbarger's family members (Christopher Plummer and Diane Ladd play his aging parents) and the soldiers who fought alongside him. 

Those vets are played by William Hurt, Samuel L. Jackson, Ed Harris and the late Peter Fonda, in one of his final roles. They're at first wary of Huffman, thinking he's just there to check a box, which in fact he is. But once he learns Pitsenbarger's story — told in intermittent flashbacks — he's invested, and the hardened men open up to him.

"The Last Full Measure" means well but its wonky structure misplaces its focus on Huffman's character. Meanwhile, more sinister elements of shady dealings within government are given short shrift, and the hesitance to honor Pitsenbarger is never adequately explained. Pitsenbarger's story is one worth telling, but "The Last Full Measure" is a misfire. 

'The Last Full Measure'

GRADE: C

Rated R: for war violence, and language

Running time: 116 minutes

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