Rated R for language, 94 minutes
"The Tillman Story" a provocative, stirring doc
It would be completely appropriate to post a review on September 11 of the affecting, powerful new documentary "The Tillman Story," about pro-football player-turned-soldier Pat Tillman, who was killed in friendly fire in Afghanistan in 2004, given that was his inspiration to enlist in the military. Compelling but disturbing, it gives some insight into the appalling U.S. government cover-up of Tillman's death and their subsequent use of him to promote the war, and his family's attempts to learn the truth.
Tillman was a tough, successful defensive back at Arizona State University before being drafted by the Arizona Cardinals in 1998. Four years into his pro career, shortly after the events of 9/11, he and his younger brother Kevin, also an athlete, enlist in the U.S. Army and sent to fight in the war with Iraq. He is killed in April 2004 in what the U.S. Government initially said was a firefight with enemy forces, but it later comes out that Tillman was actually killed by friendly fire in the mountains of Afghanistan by members of his own unit. Worst of all, the U.S. Government uses his death as a way to promote patriotism and the war, and keeps details of his death from his family.
Documentary filmmaker Amir Bar-Lev ("My Kid Could Paint That") provides a compelling, provocative and controversial look at someone committed to his country but is brought down by unfortunate events. The film is at its most fascinating when it examines the events surrounding his death, but it falters a bit when it tries to provide a full, balanced view of Tillman the man. Most controversial and most appalling are when "The Tillman Story" clearly shows the U.S. military and the government clearly knew of the actual facts of Tillman's death and kept them from his family to promote the war.
Most of Tillman's family and some of his Army colleagues are interviewed, giving insight into a sad story that could've likely been prevented. Both of his parents are entertaining interviews, as is his younger brother Richard. However, one chief flaw the film makes is not incorporating more footage and interviews from his brother Kevin who served with him, who could've provided essential insight into Pat's military service. We do see footage of him at the congressional inquiries of Pat's death, but no direct interviews are given. It seems Kevin limited his own involvement, but his silence dampens the story a bit.
Also, "The Tillman Story" overlooks some other facts in Tillman's death (there were possible Army snipers near by, his diary is never recovered and what became of those who actually killed Tillman?) and it doesn't examine Tillman's own anti-war or political views enough (which are in fact ironic given his story), though if he was anything like his family, that should probably be evident.
"The Tillman Story" will make you angry. Angry that he died. Angry of how he died. Angry that it was covered-up by the U.S. Government, and angry that it's now a closed case. "The Tillman Story" is a stirring, unforgettable look at a true hero who leaves an inspiring legacy behind, an honorable thing this September 11th.