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The Tillman Story (2010)

September 17, 2010

10/10 Lives Redacted

Easily the most important movie of the year, might be the best movie of the year, too.

The Tillman Story is a documentary about Pat Tillman, the late Arizona Cardinals safety who turned down a multi-million dollar contract to serve a with the Army Rangers in Afghanistan a year after 9/11. A year-and-a-half into his tour of duty, Tillman was tragically killed by friendly fire and the truth behind his death was covered up by the highest-ranking officials in the US military and government so that Tillman’s bravery could be used as a propaganda tool for their own devices.

Going into this, I knew only so much about Pat Tillman, his death and everything that came after. I knew full-well that it was a tragedy and I knew that there was a cover-up, but I really had no idea of the depth of the atrocities behind it all that continue to go unpunished and unanswered. But whether this is all news to you or you think you’ve heard it all, do not hesitate to see this movie because it is a story that you and everyone else needs to hear. I don’t care how badly you want to see Devil this weekend, that can wait. Consider this your homework.

First off, someone should immediately give director Amir Bar-Lev an award for making this movie in the first place and giving a real voice to a family that needed to be heard. One of this situations where you can’t help but go, “Thank GOD. It’s about damn time.” He’s not trying to bend the truth or manipulate emotions, Bar-Lev just seems to be a guy who knows how to put together a compelling documentary and makes the smart call of letting the Tillmans take care of the rest. And, man, the military sure picked the wrong family to screw over, because every last one of them has fought Goliath from day one and gone to measures that would make most people just give up and accept the futility of the situation. On the one hand, it’s beyond me how the military would think that any family wouldn’t try to put the puzzle together when no one will tell them how their son died, but considering the lengths that the military took to stop them in their tracks, it’s still unbelievable what they managed to uncover.

In many ways they’re just as inspiring as Pat himself and they get you invested from the moment they start speaking. They’ve cried all their tears, they just want what they should have gotten from the very beginning, and there is no way in hell you won’t sympathize or, God forbid, empathize with what they’re going through to the point where you want it all just as bad.

And as if it even needs to be said, this is a movie that’ll make you angry, and rightfully so because this is the kind of stuff that should never be kept from the public eye, let alone grieving families. There are a lot of thing about this story that’ll bring you to the point of experiencing true fury, but it all really comes to a head during a Congressional hearing where Donald Rumsfeld and three other high-ranking generals are questioned about when they were informed of how Tillman died based on a government-wide memo that was sent out to everyone up to former President Bush himself. And it’s an utterly infuriating and appalling scene to sit through as these untouchable scumbags answer every pathetic question thrown their way with, “I don’t remember ever getting the memo,” with shit-eating grins plastered across their faces like decorated versions of Al Capone. And making the scene that much worse are the equally despicable individuals holding the hearing who are supposed to be spearheading the cross-examination, getting some answers and bringing these liars of the highest order to justice, but are instead patting them on the back and saying, “There, there, guys. We understand, we won’t ask you any more questions. Hey, whaddaya say we forget about this whole thing and go get some ice cream?” as the Tillman’s watch on.

I really feel like using harsher language than I already have for these low-lifes, but Tillman’s father couldn’t have put it better in his letter to the military staff in charge of investigating his son’s death: “Fuck you and yours.”

Because it is fucked up – royally fucked up – and if it weren’t for this film and the unfaltering conviction of Tillman’s amazing family who refused to eat the bullshit they were being fed (and continue to be fed), this whole immoral atrocity masterminded by the people who we entrusted to run our country and not treat us like statistics to further their own agendas probably would have stayed under the rug where they swept it. The whole time I watched this movie and witnessed in shocked astonishment the depths that some of people are willing to go to hide a truth that is at least owed to Tillman’s own family, I couldn’t help but wonder if they’ve just gotten comfortable with the circle of Hell they’ll inevitably be crashing in. Makes me long for another Daniel Ellsburg to blow up the scene and the show the world what’s really been going on behind closed doors all these years.

But aside from the politics of the situation, it’s really just a story about right and wrong. As human beings, everyone involved in this cover-up must have known this was terrible, that it shouldn’t have to be Rumsfeld’s kid to die tragically on the battlefield to get some straight answers. I’m no soldier and I may not ever be one, but even a child knows that if someone puts their life on the line by putting themselves in front of a firing squad for three years so that so many of us can stay at home with our families and not have to, you owe them the fucking world.

But as much as this story is about what happened after Tillman’s death, it’s also an incredible insight into the person Pat really was. Yes, he was absolutely a hero and that will never be up for debate, but thanks to the way he’s been portrayed by those who never knew him, it seemed to fall by the wayside that he was also a freaking awesome guy. Pat was hilarious, he was a family man, he told it like it was, he was wise beyond his years, he was as humble and kind as they come, he was a born leader and naturally embodied a lot of genuinely human qualities that I for one strive for on a daily basis.

And that in particular seems to be what his parents really want everyone to understand more than anything. He never wanted to be turned into a poster boy, he never wanted people to see him as anything but what he was – an average guy who enjoyed life, went to war for his own reasons and never asked for anything in return – and even though I didn’t know much about him beforehand, it makes me extremely happy to now know who he was.

As of now, it doesn’t seem like The Tillman Story is going to get a proper wide release any time soon, and that’s a damn shame because it deserves an audience the size of Avatar. See it because it’s more important than you know, see it because we all deserve to be in the loop on this one, see it because there deserves to be consequences when criminals are allowed a “Get Out of Jail Free” card, and, most importantly, see it for Pat. I could go on, but I’ll let you continue the discussion when you see it for yourself (get ready for a long one). Just know that this is as riveting as any movie you’ll see all year and you’ll be so damn glad you spent the money. This is why I go to the movies.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. September 17, 2010 4:32 am

    I’d only previously glossed over the writeups for this because I assumed it was going to be a jingoistic ‘God Bless America’ doc. Having read what you’ve written I will undoubtedly now watch it. Thanks.

    • September 17, 2010 9:28 am

      You got it, man. Got the same impression when I saw the poster, but it’s anything but (thank god).

  2. September 17, 2010 7:11 am

    Looks so good! I’m glad that Tillman is being remembered in ways that are not exploiting him, mainly because he is what ever American wants to be, a hero. Nice Review, and I hope this gets a wide release sooon!

    • September 17, 2010 9:29 am

      Same here, man. I hope this thing blows up, should be required viewing. Hope you like it.

  3. September 17, 2010 12:10 pm

    The press releases Palisades Media Group kept sending out about this film were so over the top, Fox News type propaganda (or so I thought), that I had the same feeling as Colin. But now I’ll definitely check this out. Nice work.

    • September 17, 2010 12:27 pm

      Thanks, man. Can’t say I’ve ever watched more than five minutes of FOX News in my life, so I can only imagine what gung-ho “America, Fuck Yeah!” nonsense they were saying about it, but it’s far different than the impression they probably gave you. Anywho, definitely do check it out. Awesome.

  4. September 17, 2010 12:47 pm

    Awesome! This is turning out to be a very good year of documentary. I’m looking forward to see this.

  5. September 18, 2010 2:11 pm

    I had read bits and pieces of the Krakauer story he wrote about Tillman and it makes me so fucking angry I can’t see straight.

    No way anything beats this out for any documentary awards, no damn way.

    • September 20, 2010 1:49 pm

      You said it, man. It’d be a damn shame if this doesn’t win across the board.

  6. September 20, 2010 8:44 pm

    When I first saw the trailer I thought to myself, Great, yet another conspiracy theory story. But after reading this, I realize I must see this!

  7. February 24, 2011 10:25 am

    I just watched this. Everyone one else in this country should too.


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