Monday, August 23, 2010

A Documentary Review: The Tillman Story (2010)

The Tillman Story (2010)
aka "I'm Pat ___Tillman" - USA (working title)

Director - Amir Bar-Lev
94 min; R (language)

Narrator - Josh Brolin

Director Amir Bar-Lev spoke for approximately 15 minutes after his new film The Tillman Story came to a close during a rainy Sunday afternoon screening in New York. Had it been left up to him the title would have been quite different: I'm Pat Fucking Tillman. For obvious reasons this never reached the light of day, but those few words are so powerful and encapsulate such a large amount of what this film was made for that it would have been absolutely perfect.

I've been busy reading everything I can get my hands on about this film, the making of the film, actual letters and documents available online, and anything else that my mind wanders towards. This really is a fascinating story and even a full length documentary such as this can only cover so much and I really wish it could have uncovered even more. I suppose I am slightly confused as to what the actual aim of the film is, that is to say, was it created to shed new light on a subject that has been discussed in great detail over the years? or was it put together to tell the story of Pat? or of the Tillman family? or of a government conspiracy? etc.? I suppose that ultimately it works extraordinarily well on all levels, and though we never reach fulfilment on certain questions this is one hell of a springboard towards potential future uncovering - perhaps a follow up in 5-10 years would be a perfect complement.

The film is packed with perfectly placed footage and interviews that left me involuntarily teared up and at the same time I felt a deep, guttural anger towards those involved. I credit the director quite highly that I do not feel like he was setting up the audience for these moments as some sort of 'gotcha' moment, rather I felt very much that these moments are there as a reminder of truth, of what actually happened, and how it affects each person may be slightly different, but I'm willing to bet that there will be a common theme of emotion.

There is no way to give a 'basic' outline of what this film strives to cover, but in a sweeping attempt to bring unity to this review I will attempt a brief synopsis:

Pat Tillman, a standout football player at Arizona State University and eventual professional player for the Arizona Cardinals, walked away from a multi-million dollar contract in the aftermath of 9/11 and took up post in Afghanistan Along with his brother Kevin. He was very private about his reasons and never publicly spoke of his decision. During a second tour of duty Tillman, along with an Afghan friendly, were killed by what was initially said to be a heroic effort on Tillman's part during an ambush on his convoy.

Russell Baer was there when it all happened and he knew the truth, yet he was told to keep quiet, along with everyone who knew, while he quietly flew back to the US with Pat's brother Kevin and the coffin sitting between them. Subsequent information, due in large part to the efforts of the Tillman family, brought to light a likely cover-up by the US government and army in regard to the actual cause of death - 'friendly-fire' - Tillman had been killed by his own men. So why was there even a need for a cover up? Why not just report the facts? This film takes a hard look at the reasoning behind these questions, about why Tillman was treated as such a national hero, and why his family wanted the truth about their son to be known - that he was not a hero any more than the others he fought with, that he was a human being who made mistakes but always tried to do the right thing, and that he was not some poster-child to be broadcast across the country for some political agenda.

Rich Tillman, speaking at his brother Pat's funeral after listening to a line of people speak of Pat being 'home' and 'in a better place with God', simply cannot hold back his most pure feelings on the entire situation: "Pat isn't with God. He's fucking dead. He wasn't religious. So thank you for your thoughts, but he's fucking dead." The film holds no punches regarding the Tillman boys' use of the F-word, liberally, nor of Tillman's atheism, and his brother had simply had enough of what he viewed as other people projecting their views of his brother onto the world.

Pat's mother Marie (Dannie) worked tirelessly after obtaining some 3,000 documents from the military, much of it blacked out, to uncover discrepancies and truth. In a recent article she discusses some interesting items: (

Pat's father Patrick Tillman's letters (only referenced in the film) to the army can be read in full here and I strongly recommend you do so to get a first hand view of what this man and his family was going through in their quest to uncover the truth - it is very powerful to feel the emotion yet composure: (

How deep is the cover up? Evidence exists and is suggested at in the film that not only was this a 'friendly-fire' death but potentially the unthinkable of a planned murder. It was known that Tillman was to have a meeting with noted anti-war writer Noam Chomsky regarding war crimes - a meeting that was to take place just 60 days from his death. As a well known face of the war and in the wake of the Jessica Lynch debacle and Abu Ghraib scandal, there is an entire case to be made for that tangent, but such details are not pressed in the film, and evidence of such an end to Tillman's life is not quite there (though an independent autopsy analysis found that 3 tightly packed bullet holes in Tillman's head strongly suggest that they took place as close as 10-30 yards away.)

"I'm Pat fucking Tillman. Why are you shooting at me!" These were the last words as evidenced by Bryan O' Neil who was there when Tillman was killed. He states in the movie he witnessed Pat's head completely shot to pieces in front of him, and that right up until the end Tillman was waving his arms at his own team below yelling "I'm Pat fucking Tillman. Why are you shooting at me!" over and over again.

Why were they shooting at him?

**** and 1/2 out of 5

1 comment:

Kara said...

Can't wait to see it!!!