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Christopher Plummer in The Last Full Measure
Foresight Unlimited

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Finding hope in the past

The Last Full Measure honors a fallen hero

A new film about the Vietnam War reminds us that even though we can’t change the past, sometimes it can change us.

The Last Full Measure is based on the true story of William H. Pitsenbarger, an Air Force pararescueman in the Vietnam War who died saving soldiers he didn’t know during Operation Abilene, one of the war’s bloodiest engagements. The soldiers he saved spent 30 years asking the government to award Pitsenbarger the Medal of Honor—the highest U.S. military decoration. The veterans believed Pitsenbarger had been denied the Medal of Honor out of either bureaucratic incompetence or snobbery, since Pitsenbarger was an enlisted man and not an officer. 

Sebastian Stan, most famous for playing Bucky Barnes/the Winter Soldier in the Avengers franchise, plays Scott Huffman, an ambitious and somewhat unlikable Pentagon staffer whose boss tasks him with reviewing the Pitsenbarger file to placate the insistent vets. Huffman feels the job is beneath him but reluctantly begins putting the review together. The movie proceeds through a series of interviews with the veterans paired with flashbacks to the action in Vietnam.

A couple of scenes in The Last Full Measure feel contrived, but the movie features an all-star cast of actors from Hollywood’s yesteryear. Christopher Plummer, William Hurt, and Samuel L. Jackson give particularly moving performances as men Pitsenbarger touched in various ways. I wept openly more than once during the film.

The Last Full Measure is rated R for war violence and repeated bad language, and some of the brokenness the war’s survivors experience is hard to watch. But there’s a story of redemption to be found in the ugliness of war and politics. The film reminds us “justice delayed is justice denied,” and we see that acknowledging the valor and virtue of the past can change the hearts and lives of those living in the present. Christians will even catch glimpses of Christ in the story of Pitsenbarger, a man who sacrificed himself to save others.

More and more, Americans look back on our country’s past with shame and judgment. But The Last Full Measure reminds viewers that in the midst of this world’s evil, goodness still shines from time to time. When it does, we should do our best to acknowledge it and provide hope for others.

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Universal Studios


Universal Studios

Movies

Dolittle does little that’s new

We already had a crass version of the classic children's stories

Dolittle, based on Hugh Lofting’s classic children’s stories, feels like two different movies. The first third embodies all the prickly, off-kilter charm an Anglophile’s heart could desire. It opens, as all English children’s stories should, in a wild wood hiding a mysterious, crumbling manor.

Dreamy-eyed village lad Stubbins (Harry Collett) can’t bring himself to follow in his family’s footsteps and fire upon forest creatures. His gentle heart gets a reward: an invitation from a talking parrot (Emma Thompson) to a secret animal sanctuary where he meets a pretty, young aristocrat; an array of furry, feathered, and scaled hosts; and the most eccentric man of science the 19th century—an era famed for eccentric men of science—ever produced: Dr. John Dolittle (Robert Downey Jr.).

All shipshape and Bristol fashion so far.

It’s when the animals start to speak that we sense the first whiff of danger—they all have inexplicably modern, American personalities. Still, even when his accent goes a bit wobbly, Downey Jr. offers such a pleasingly crusty old Welshman our concern is easy enough to brush off. As Dolittle, Stubbins, and Lady Rose (Carmel Laniado) set off for Buckingham Palace on a mission to save her majesty, we settle in for a feast of charming Victoriana. 

And that’s when this sweet PG frolic becomes less Paddington and more South Park. 

Every cheap, juvenile gag a lazy Hollywood screenwriter can be counted on to produce suddenly arrives to grate on parents’ nerves: crude jokes, puerile references to body parts, inane puns, cut-off expletives, and, finally, rhymes-with expletives.

We already had a loud, crass, Americanized version of the story with 1998’s Eddie Murphy vehicle. We didn’t need a new one with an old accent.

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Warner Bros.


Warner Bros.

Movies

Presumed guilty

Northern lawyer goes to the South to fight corrupt judicial system in historically based legal drama Just Mercy

Each generation looks into its rearview mirror to see stories of past racial injustices it must tell. In 1960, Harper Lee published To Kill a Mockingbird, a story revolving around a black man falsely accused of rape in 1930s Alabama. The actual murders of three civil rights activists in 1964 was the loose basis for Mississippi Burning, nominated in 1989 for multiple Oscars. 

Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear: The real-life case in Just Mercy centers on an African American man who didn’t see justice after his undeserved murder conviction until 1993.

Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx), a black resident of Monroe County, Ala., faces the death penalty for the murder of an 18-year-old white woman. A convicted felon’s dubious testimony put him there, and local law enforcement officials have suppressed exculpatory evidence.

“You’re guilty from the moment you’re born,” McMillian says of the legal system’s treatment of many blacks in the South.

Into this hostile environment walks Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan), a young African American graduate of Harvard Law School. He establishes a tiny nonprofit called Equal Justice Institute, dedicated to representing the poor on death row. He takes up the cases of six defendants—at least one wrongly convicted, others inappropriately sentenced. The more Stevenson digs, the more he enrages powerful people.

Stevenson’s education and profession mean nothing to the county’s sheriff and district attorney. They see a black man who doesn’t know his place. When police lights flash in Stevenson’s rearview mirror during a late-night drive down a country road, he experiences firsthand the same helplessness and humiliation that many poor individuals, especially people of color, have endured at the hands of those sworn to protect the rule of law.

Viewers feel this same helplessness—at least for two riveting hours. (The film is rated PG-13 mainly for explicit language.) The abuses of power roll in relentlessly, as conspirators and their dupes seem to cut off every avenue of relief. You wonder: How can people be so cruel? Is turning a blind eye our default reaction to injustice?

Foxx and Jordan give career performances, as does Tim Blake Nelson, who plays a criminal regretting his false testimony against McMillian but fearing the consequences of coming clean.

Although the film makes little of Stevenson’s church background, the real Bryan Stevenson told me he’s a Christian who finds inspiration in Micah 6:8: “The Scriptures tell us to … advocate for the poor, disfavored, excluded, and condemned.” He’s working for the day when Americans no longer look in their rearview mirrors and see so many stories of injustice.

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