Government cover-ups, conspiracy theories, and mysterious doings are works of fiction. They are what we expect from the latest movie at the cineplex and what we happily equate to being make-believe because to admit our government could lie to us, its people, is something of too great a consequence. The reality of the situation is that cover-ups do happen. People are lied to in order to hide the truth that a perfect system does not in fact exist. The Tillman Story brings to light a very controversial, and very true, story about Pat Tillman. Pat was a football star who chose to leave a multi-million dollar contract and join the Army Rangers. He did not want to be seen as a hero but as a citizen who felt a need to defend his country. It is what happened to Pat Tillman that made him into a propaganda tool for the army as well as part of one of the most unimaginable military cover-ups in recent history.
The army turned Pat Tillman into a war hero after his death in Afghanistan. They exploited his death in an attempt to boost morale. What they did not tell anyone, including his family, is that Pat Tillman was killed by friendly fire. It was not an accident during a fight with the enemy. It was not from a misfire of a gun during training exercises. His death was due to gross negligence on the part of fellow Rangers. This is not a happy story. It is all parts tragedy. It is also full of an incredible amount of anger. The interviews with Pat’s family as they explain the deceit and lies given to them by the army for years are seething with hatred and animosity. They reveal that the truth had to be found through various means of investigation. How the army did everything in their power to complicate the matter so much that it was nearly impossible to find the truth beneath mountains of paperwork and orders of silence in the ranks. All the while mixing in background on Pat; his upbringing, family life, way of life, and future plans.
Director Amir Bar-Lev does not try to sugar coat the events for the viewer. He does test your emotions to the fullest. The goal appears to be to enrage the viewer; to make you detest the government officials behind the cover-up. It also builds Tillman up so much that it wears on you with time. If Tillman is not to be seen as a hero, as “special”, Bar-Lev has me fooled. The film turns him into an example of system failures while at the same time building up the hero status in a different light. No longer the mythological war hero of the army he is now the poster boy for a corrupt and unjust system. I realize it is important to reveal the story behind the man but Bar-Lev has compiled the footage in a way where a level of glorification occurs. This is Pat’s story and it does deserve to be told as it is important. But the blatant expectation of empathy from the viewer takes away from the seriousness of the matter. The reality of the situation gets lost many points along the way while the one-sided views neglect to offer a well-rounded documentation of the events. Let’s face it though, the army officials were not about to get involved in the making of this film so we just have to give up on ever getting their side of the story.
When The Tillman Story draws to a close and the lights go on you will feel a rush of emotion. I noticed a definite quieting of people as they left the theater as if deep in thought and in need of processing what they had just watched and in turn learned from. This is a film everyone should see because it unmasks so much in terms of our government and military. To say you will enjoy the film is impossible. I did not enjoy watching this movie but I did appreciate it and gain respect for all involved. For to tell this story could not have been easy and took much bravery to put it out there for the world to see regardless of the repercussions. No matter what reaction the film evokes in you remember it is not just the story of Pat Tillman. It represents all military personnel and the truth that what happened to Pat can and will happen again.
The Tillman Story was screened at the Los Angeles Film Festival (2010). It is set to be released in theatres August 2010. To receive updates please visit the film’s website here.