a SIFF 2010 review
Tillman Story a Heroic Journey to the Truth
The Tillman Story is one of the best, most profound and deeply affecting documentaries Iíve had the pleasure to see this year. The story of a hero, a cover-up and a family that refused to believe the lies and would do anything to learn the truth, director Amir Bar-Levís (My Kid Could Paint That) stunning masterwork is an astonishing piece of investigative journalism that should be required viewing for audiences of all ages.
An archive photo of Pat Tillman used in The Tillman Story © The Weinstein Company
At this point almost everyone has heard of Pat Tillman. A star safety for the Arizona Cardinals, he gave up his career in the NFL to join the Army in the wake of 9/11, heading to Afghanistan to confront those he felt responsible for the acts terrorism committed against his beloved country. In April of 2004 it was reported that he was tragically killed in action. Lauded for his selflessness, celebrated for taking on the Taliban in gung-ho John Wayne style, news outlets all over the U.S. proclaimed him a national hero, the communal outpouring of grief reminding many of WWII and the so-called ďGreatest Generation.Ē
Five weeks later everything changed. It was soon announced that, while the situation with the Taliban was probably true, Pat didnít die from their bullets but was instead a victim of ďfriendly fire.Ē He retained his Silver Star, the country retained its hero, and for all intents and purposes both the government and the military considered the matter 100-percent closed.
But as the movie painfully and intimately details, the Tillman family themselves didnít agree with that assessment. Sifting through over 3,000 pages of material released to them in regards to the investigation into her sonís death, mother Mary ďDannieĒ Tillman began to do everything within her power to comprehend and understand the actual circumstances behind the tragedy. What she unearthed hints at a cover-up reaching the highest echelons power, Dannie and the rest of the Tillman family coming to believe Patís death was used as a propaganda weapon to prop up the war effort, the actual truth (the Taliban weren't even there) be damned.
Using intimate interviews with the entire Tillman family, Army Rangers under Patís command, the former head of Joint Special Operations Philip Kensinger and retired special-ops soldier Stan Goff, as well as a weaving in archival footage of politicians and military leaders, Bar-Lev does an incredible job of bringing as many facts into the light as possible. He showcases how Patís death was used, abused and twisted by those on both the Right and the Left (but especially the Right), the truth just another causality in a public relations war nearly as vicious and cutthroat as the one on the ground in Afghanistan.
Yet, as angry as much of the deceit and the Machiavellian imbroglio made me feel, nothing presented here makes Patís sacrifice any less laudable or heroic. If anything, it only makes it more so. Listening to his wife Marie talk about what made her husband so special brought tears to my eyes, as did just about everything Dannie or his younger brother Richard had to add. Pat was a complicated guy with a view on life that wasnít near as black and white as the Washington establishment wanted everyone to believe, and even knowing his death might be used and abused by those in power he still felt it his duty to serve.
I donít care what a personís political stripes are. I donít give a darn who they voted for or why. In the end, the truth is the truth a personís own words should speak volumes. Facts in wartime donít need to be twisted when honesty makes the sacrifice all the more meaningful. Pat Tillman was Ė is Ė a hero, he deserves to be honored. The Tillman Story shows this to be the case and then some, and for those who think war is a game played on a Playstation or an X-Box this is one movie that brings the full cost back to the home front where it belongs.
Film Rating: ÍÍÍ1/2 (out of 4)