A true tale of sacrifice and a nation’s gratitude, Friday’s “The Last Full Measure” was for Ed Harris, all about friendship.
“Measure,” a passion project for writer-director Todd Robinson, tells two stories.
One is set in a firefight in 1966 Vietnam, where the US Air Force’s William Pitsenbarger saved over 60 lives. Rather than board the last helicopter out, he stayed with the endangered squad and died. He was 21.
The other story, 32 years later, reveals the effort to honor Pitsenbarger’s ultimate sacrifice with the Medal of Honor. What’s remarkable is how the relentless decades-long push for this recognition came from Vietnam vets who had never met Pitsenbarger until that day — he was Air Force, they were Army.
Harris, an essential part of the film’s distinguished roster, is Ray Mott, one of the now-elderly Vietnam vets who just would not give up. The others are Samuel L. Jackson, William Hurt and Peter Fonda (his final film).
Pitsenbarger’s parents are played by Christopher Plummer and Diane Ladd. Sebastian Stan (“Avengers” as the Winter Soldier) is the Pentagon staffer whose investigation of the case uncovers a political minefield.
“Todd is a good friend, I’ve known him for 18 to 20 years. Our daughters have known each other since they were young from horseback riding,” Harris said last week enroute to Brooklyn, where he had rehearsals for a restaging of his Broadway hit “To Kill a Mockingbird” in Madison Square Garden for 18,000 students.
“Todd’s been wanting to make this film a long, long time. My part was relatively small — I just worked for a few days but I knew all about the trials and tribulations of these men from a movie I’d done years earlier, ‘Jacknife’ (he played a PTSD Vietnam vet opposite Robert De Niro).
“With Todd, this is a script he wrote and felt so intensely about, the more he learned about Pitsenbarger, the more he felt he had to make this movie. This was something he wouldn’t abandon.”
Harris knows what that’s like — “Pollock,” his Oscar-winning 2000 biopic of painter Jackson Pollock as director, producer and star, “was a total obsession. I worked on that for a good decade before we got it made.”
“I’ve got a film like that now, from a 2015 novel set in Montana, ‘The Plowman.’ I’ve got Garret Hedlund, Robert Duvall and my wife, Amy (Madigan, also in ‘The Last Full Measure’), and my daughter, Lily. It’s a good script but it’s tough, the budget’s a little high.”