There can’t possibly be a more emotionally compelling film produced this year than The Tillman Story—because not only is it inspirational, gut wrenching, humorous, tragic, suspenseful, lovely, and infuriating, IT’S TRUE.
The film by director Amir Bar-Lev covers the amazing life of Pat Tillman: from the hometown boy growing up in New Almaden, California—to his college football years at Arizona State—to his time in the NFL playing safety for the Arizona Cardinals—to his enlistment in the U.S. Army with his younger brother Kevin—and to his untimely and hideous death in 2004 at the age of 27—in Khost, Afghanistan—shot and killed by members of his own platoon.
Note: For more background info, I reviewed the book, Boots on the Ground Before Dusk: My Tribute to Pat Tillman, by Mary “Dannie” Tillman (Pat’s intrepid Mom). Here’s the link: http://fuchsiawoman.com/blog/read/the-pat-tillman-family-deserves-the-truth-about-pat-tillman/
The film opens with video of Pat talking about 9-11, as part of a public service campaign by the Arizona Cardinals’ management. Seeing him up close and speaking was jarring. But you immediately get the gist of his humble personality, genuineness, and likeability.
Next was Pat’s memorial service—a national media event and giant hoopla that after getting to know Pat through the film —as a low-key, low-ego, low-attention seeking guy—you know he would have hated this pageantry. (What was up with the bare-midriff cheerleaders prancing around with pom-poms?! One of the many unbelievable moments throughout the film. Standing on the sidelines, the pained look on Dannie Tillman’s face says it all.)
Narrated by Josh Brolin, the film straightaway dispels the “dumb jock/big jerk” image that you might apply to Pat as an NFL player. Pat Tillman was the opposite: intelligent, thoughtful, inquisitive, a voracious reader, and a guy who parked his bicycle next to the Escalades at the Cardinals’ stadium.
The film then jumps back and forth chronologically to piece together Pat’s story. There are the usual documentary interview style close-ups of people offering their version/commentary/perspective.
The “talking heads” include: Dannie; Patrick Tillman, Sr. (Pat’s father); Richard Tillman (Pat’s youngest brother); Marie Tillman (Pat’s wife); Stan Goff (Army special-ops vet and blogger); Russell Baer and Bryan O’Neal (Pat’s fellow platoon members); Lieutenant General Philip Kensinger (head of the Army’s Special Operations); and Syd and Peggy (the Tillman’s longtime neighbors). They all come across as honest and earnest.
[The only “talking head” person I didn’t like was a third soldier, a commanding officer who said that Pat “became unglued” when he gave Pat an order that he thought was “completely f**king stupid.” I believe the stupid part. I don’t believe the unglued part. He is also the only soldier who testified that there was enemy fire in the Afghanistan canyon on the day Pat was shot. ALL other sources say there was no enemy in sight. This particular soldier recounts how he heard enemy mortar flying past him, which could not have been true. He was trying to make the case for the “fog of war” defense in Pat’s killing. I didn’t buy his story.]
With eyewitness accounts from fellow soldiers, the film makes the case that the U.S. Army knew from minute one that Pat Tillman was killed by “friendly fire,”—yet concocted an elaborate lie to tell the family—and more importantly for the Army, to tell the nation. The Bush administration needed a “hero” and a propaganda tool to keep selling the war to the American people. Totally and utterly despicable.
Unfortunately for them, they picked the wrong family to mess with.
It is apparent in the film what a dogged and valiant effort Dannie Tillman makes to get answers and the truth about what really happened to Pat. No amount of lying, dodging, obfuscating, trickery, and disrespect thrown at her by U.S. government will thwart her mission!
Three of my favorite parts in the film are when Richard, Kevin, and Patrick Sr. acknowledge the incredible job Dannie did uncovering the cover-up and demanding responsibility from our nation’s military and leadership.
The footage of the Congressional hearings into the U.S. military’s cover-up of Pat’s death is the infuriating part of the film. The generals and secretary of defense all look like the village idiot as well as lying sacks of donkey turds.
California Congressman Waxman also looks and acts like a moron and does not have the balls to confront the generals or Rumsfeld regarding their pathetic and untruthful testimony. It was sickening to watch these worms squirm out of their dastardly deeds without remorse—due to the fact that they are also without a speck of honor, dignity, or integrity in their bones. The generals and Rummie are not fit to shine Pat Tillman’s boots.
Even harder to watch during the hearing were the looks of despair/outrage/resignation on the faces of the Tillman family as they had to listen to the b.s. about the reporting of Pat’s death.
Despite the overwhelming sadness and anger over the deadly FUBAR that resulted in the loss of a young brave American, there are also many wonderful moments in the film: Pat and Marie’s courtship/wedding; Richard’s eulogy; the neighbors discussing the Tillman boys’ verbal proclivities; the mentoring relationship Pat had with Pvt. O’Neal.
There are many thought-provoking moments: Patrick Sr.’s comments about his response to Pat and Kevin enlisting; Specialist Baer recounting Pat’s opinion of the Iraq War (“f**king illegal”); the comments by Army vet Goff about the mental capabilities of the young men in the Army; and Marie’s explanation of why she did not try to talk Pat of enlisting.
My favorite part is the end where Dannie, although not satisfied with not getting the whole truth about her son, says there is nothing more she (nor the family) can do. It is time to move on. But she “is taking Pat with her.” Even through her smile I felt her pain.
Lastly, the Neil Young song “Hawks and Doves” in the soundtrack added a nice (and poignant) touch:
Ready to go, willin’ to stay and pay
So my sweet love can dance
another free day
Director: Amir Bar-Lev
Screenwriter: Mark Monroe
Producer: John Battsek
A job exceptionally well done!
This film is not to be missed. It displays our nation at its worst and makes it hard to like America—a country that will dishonor a man who gave his life to serve it.
As such, The Pat Tillman Story is not only the BEST film of 2010. It is also the MOST IMPORTANT.
Here’s the trailer: