DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: The Tillman Story

Wednesday 9 February 2011

The Tillman Story

The Tillman Story (2010) dir. Amir Bar-Lev


By Alan Bacchus

At the Super Bowl last weekend among the drawn out ceremonial coverage of the big game was a tribute to the soldiers of the US military – something now commonplace for big events. The moment, orchestrated by the director of the broadcast, featured American flags hanging calmly in the background, a recent medal winner standing respectfully in the endzone, and Troy Aikman and Joe Buck praising the work of all the soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. I understand the need to do this. After the ostracizing of the soldiers of Vietnam in the 60's, the collective American public wants to atone for the damage done to those shamed soldiers.

In The Pat Tillman Story, this need to blindly create heroes of the soldiers slides horribly to the side of egregious disrespect and contempt for the wishes of the families of those fallen men and women. The very public story of Pat Tillman, a former NFL football player who quit the league to fight for his country and who was killed by friendly fire in Iraq is comprehensively broken down and analyzed from the point of view of Tillman’s grieving family, who only the desired the truth, but instead were fed lie after lie by the military PR spin controllers.

Director Amir Bar-Lev unveils the story to us carefully, telling us the minute details of the events which led to his death.  He also approaches the events which led to Tillman’s family learning of Tillman’s death and the public hoopla which followed with the same careful consideration. The tragedy of which, considering the miscommunication of the friendly fire shootout, is heartbreaking, but soldiers admit the fog of war can easily create such havoc. The military never covered this up, and the family was even accepting of this sad reality or war, but the need to create a story of deified heroism and to parade their son's image in the name of military rabble-rousing was something they could not stand for.

The key moment of conflict which sends his parents on the two year long odyssey for justice comes when they question the military for more details on the official interpretation of events pertaining to their son’s death. With Tillman already in the public eye the family accuses the military of manufacturing a heroic spin on Tillman’s death in lieu of revealing the true grisly details none of us ever want to hear.

It’s as remarkable a character study as it is an investigative piece. Bar-Lev goes into the young life of Tillman as a rambunctious young boy, one of three brothers in a strong tight-knit family, to his feats of excellence in athletics. The connections of Tillman’s internal fortitude and his physical strength becomes a profound metaphor to his mother and father’s conviction to learn the truth.

The Tillman Story is thus both inspiring and frustrating. Inspiring for Tillman’s parents’ stubborn refusal to accept anything less than the truth, a fight which takes them all the way to a Congressional Oversight Committee hearing and frustrating for the US Government’s even more resolute stubbornness to save face and refusal to admit the lies they’ve been feeding the public – an admonition which would likely open up other old wounds from these post 9/11 conflicts.

In a year of great documentaries, this one has sadly fallen under the rradar during awards season. Don't miss it.

The Tillman Story is available on DVD from Alliance Films in Canada

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