Documentary Review: THE TILLMAN STORY
The story of Pat Tillman’s life and untimely death is one that lends itself to legend. Legend makes for engaging cinema. In the hands of filmmaker Amir Bar Lev, the The Tillman Story is great cinema.
The Man Who Was Pat Tillman
By all accounts other than his own, Pat Tillman, the pro football player who turned in his multimillion dollar contract to turn himself into a patriot soldier, was a hero — no, make that Hero, with a capital H.
Tillman, according to those who knew him, considered himself to be an ordinary guy who happened to enjoy a good challenge and liked using whatever talents he possessed to do the best he could in meeting it. However, to family, friends and millions of fans, Tillman was an extraordinary man with stellar attributes: he was strapping, handsome, smart, truth-seeking and loyal, a stand up humanist who managed to balance a penchant for calling his own shots with his unfailing dedication to fairness and team play.
During his life, profiles of Tillman’s larger-than-life persona and details about his game and achievements were served up as daily fare by star-struck media were relished by adoring fans.
No surprise that news of the death of Corporal Pat Tillman, U.S. Army Ranger, in April of 2004, during his deployment in Afghanistan, made banner headlines and set the entire nation — not just sports fans — into mourning.
Telling the Tale of Tillman’s Death
Tillman’s team of employers — the Army and, ultimately, the George W. Bush administration — told the tale of Tillman’s death as that of combat hero who sacrificed his life to protect those in his command. Tillman’s contingent was, the official reports indicated, under heavy enemy attack, and the Corporal was fatally wounded by incoming fire.
But official accounts of Tillman’s death lacked critical information that his family — understandably wanting to understand under what circumstances their beloved son-brother-husband took his last breath — demanded to know. Pat’s mom, every bit as strong and determined as her heroic son, began investigating. She met with obfuscation. Then, as she persisted, from behind the crumbling official wall of silence emerged the troubling evidence that Pat’s death was caused by friendly fire. Yes, friendly fire. And, yes, this critical information had been intentionally withheld and covered up by the administration.
A second wave of banner headlines upheld Tillman’s status as Hero, but rebuked authorities for purposefully camouflaging the circumstances of Tillman’s death and spinning the incident to serve as pro-war propaganda. Of course, disclosure didn’t reverse Tillman’s demise, but it did, at least, honor the truth — and that is something for which Tillman, the stand up man, always stood.
Tillman’s Tale Has Mythic Resonance
Director Amir Bar Lev incorporates archival footage and photos gleaned from the Tillman family, the NFL and news media sources with on-camera interviews with family members, friends and fellow soldiers who witnessed Tillman’s death, to present a comprehensive, compelling and truthful narrative covering Pat Tillman’s extraordinary life and lasting legacy.
The Tillman Story affords viewers the joyful experience of getting to know more about the remarkable Pat Tillman and appreciate his accomplishments.
But be advised, The Tillman Story is not a light-hearted fan-pandering biopic. Director Amir Bar Lev weaves into the fabric of his narrative elemental issues that stretch beyond the Tillman legend to the realm of myth, to the arena in which story is used to elicit contemplation of topics such as the nature of heroism, the contracts between governments and their citizens, family and civic loyalty and questions about why men fight and what lies beyond our perceptions of truth.
The Tillman Story is a profound film. By all means see it, and do prepare yourself to delve. The documentary had its theatrical release in 2010. It is now available on DVD and online.
Title: The Tillman Story
Director: Amir Bar Lev
Release Date: August 20, 2010
Running Time: 94 mins.
MPAA Rating: R for language
Parents Advisory: Advisory for content
Production Company: Passion Pictures, A&E IndieFilms
Distribution: The Weinstein Company