REVIEW: The Tillman Story

25 06 2011

Many documentaries explore worlds we hardly know, exposing us to vast injustices and unimaginable horrors.  These are undeniably eye-opening, but they often don’t shock quite as much as documentaries that pull back the facade on stories we think we know.  “The Tillman Story” is in a class with the latter type of documentaries, showing us the truth about Pat Tillman’s life and death that the military didn’t want us to see on ESPN.

I remember being 11 years old and hearing the news that Pat Tillman, the man who gave up a career in the NFL to serve in the army for the love of his country, had been killed in Afghanistan.  Here was a man that was a symbol of patriotism, a banner for all the good in America.  I remember my dad telling me that Pat Tillman was a true American hero, and I think countless other parents told their kids the same thing.

Because of that, when Pat Tillman died in Afghanistan, the military saw the perfect martyr to regain some confidence in their mission and to give heroism a face that America could rally around.  They simply covered up the fact that he actually died by friendly fire (shot by his own men, for those unfamiliar with military jargon) and exalted him like a saint.  Little did they know that Pat’s family was not going to sit back and accept their version of events.  Motivated by justice and truth, two very American values, his mother Mary Tillman and various others pursue accountability from the military and acknowledgement of the reality of Pat’s death.

It’s hard to reexamine a story like Pat Tillman’s since it had become like a truth for me.  Now, we have to adjust the events in our mind: he can remain a hero for the choice he made, but he can no longer be seen with the same heroism in death.  Better yet, Amir Bar-Lev, with his fascinating “The Tillman Story,” doesn’t stop at asking us that question.  He challenges us to think about how much we need a hero or an inspiring tale.  Will we go so far as to accept fiction or ignorance to get it?  B+