The Tillman Story (2011)

Directed by Amir Bar-Lev

I think it is safe to say that we all know about the story about Pat Tillman. Or do we? He was the safety for the Arizona Cardinals in the National Football League. He had a beautiful wife and a multi-million dollar contract. But after September 11th, a year or two after, he and his brothers decided to volunteer for military service. Pat was placed in the elite Ranger corps of the Army. It was a mystery to millions when he left his safe, multi-million dollar contract to risk his life in Afghanistan, and when he was killed in April of 2004 at the young age of 27, the American people called him a hero. So too did the government, who reported he was killed in a firefight with enemy forces and was later awarded the Silver Star, the third highest award that can be bestowed upon a member of the armed forces. But it was all a hoax.

The Tillman Story is a strange documentary. Not strange in the sense that it tells a strange story, though it is, or that it tells it in a strange way, though it does. But it is strange because the story it tells is one that was in the public eye so much, it seems a bit trite for filmmaker Amir Bar-Lev (My Kid Could Paint That) to tackle such a topic. Yet he does and he does it in an interesting way.

The film is titled The Tillman Story and it sets out to tell the story of who Pat Tillman was. But it also tells the story of the deceit of the American government. It sells itself as showing who the real Pat Tillman was, yet spends more than half the film disclosing the story of the cover-up of his death, which is an important and fascinating tale, but again, why try to be something you’re not? For those who do not know the story, see the film and/or stop reading this paragraph HERE. Pat Tillman, it was later found, was killed by friendly fire and one man in his unit insisted this was the case the entire time. His unit was told to keep quiet and talk to no one. His parents and brothers were lied to, as was his wife. Pat Tillman was used by the government to depict the ideal, heroic, all-American man. When Tillman entered the military he had one wish: that he be treated like any other soldier, yet in his death, the exact opposite was fulfilled. And not just by the U.S. Government.

This film takes the side of the Tillman family whether it tries to or not, so it is interesting that the film should take advantage of the high profile case of Pat Tillman and his story in order to take a stance against both President Bush and the rest of the government and military. It almost does exactly what it is condemning. The story is a fascinating one, and we may never know the whole truth, but it is scary to think about what the government tells us and how spin can be used to say anything anyone wants. This film seeks the truth. Whether it finds it is arguable, but it is admirable, so let me leave you with a quote from Russian writer Andrei Platonov which I thought of as I was watching the film:

“Without truth, I feel ashamed to be alive.”

1 comment

  1. You write: It was a mystery to millions when he left his safe, multi-million dollar contract to risk his life in Afghanistan, and when he was killed in April of 2004 at the young age of 27, the American people called him a hero … But it was all a hoax.

    I don't believe it was a hoax to suggest he was a hero. He turned his back on a safe, secure existence, one of wealth and acclaim, to put himself in the line of fire, knowing it could cost him his life. As it did. Irregardless of who pulled the trigger that day, he was out there, in the danger zone, because he chose to do so — because he felt it was the right thing to do. So, yes, he was a hero. He laid down his life for his country.

    However, I do agree it was a terrible thing that the US Govt/military lied about the circumstances of his death. That was a betrayal of the man.

    (Incidentally, I am not an American.)


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