The Tillman Story Review

NFL linebacker turned US Army Ranger Pat Tillman tragically died in Afghanistan in 2004. The events surrounding his death were quick to break on news outlets around the world and he was quickly commended as an American hero. Pat Tillman was a high profile member of the US Army and the information released by the military painted Tillman as a hero who valiantly died in battle trying to safeguard the lives of his fellow rangers and uttering final words such as “let’s take this fight to the enemy!”.

This official story was simply not true though and gradually the layers of deception began to be unpeeled by the media and ultimately Pat Tillman’s family. The specific details surrounding the true story are still unclear but the military did eventually admit that the real cause of Pat Tillman’s death was fratricide. A tragic accident they claimed, due to the ‘fog of war’. Although there are still many doubts about this second official story one unassailable truth remains, Tillman’s family and the American people were lied to by the military and the government.

It is this cover up and manipulation of the truth that is at the centre of Amir Bar-Lev’s documentary, The Tillman Story. With a voiceover by Josh Brolin, talking heads from key individuals (namely the Tillman family) and a host of archive footage Amir Bar-Lev lays out the story of the the construction of the cover up, the lionising of Tillman and the remarkable efforts by Pat Tillma’s mother, Mary, to find the truth behind Pat’s death and hold those responsible for the lies accountable.

The story of Pat Tillman is fascinating and anyone who has followed the unfolding events over the past 6 years will be aware of the many twists and turns. Unfortunately anyone familiar with the story will find little new in The Tillman Story and maybe even a few things that don’t quite sit right. That said those unfamiliar with the cover up will most likely find the story gripping, despite the film’s slightly leaden pacing, and the story compelling and enlightening.

The Tillman family are also some of the most intelligent and admirable people to grace the cinema screens this year and the most effective sequences in the film are due to this more than anything else. Listening to Richard Tillman speak about his brother, especially in an incredible speech at Pat’s memorial service, and Mary Tillman discuss the lengths she went to to uncover the truth are both jaw dropping and incredibly emotional affecting.

Amir Bar-Lev’s construction of the documentary seems a little confused though, moving down one path only to veer off down another before returning back. The overall structure is a little muddled and aimless and could perhaps benefit from a leaner cut as despite the fascinating story the last half hour drags somewhat and re-covers elements from the first hour.

The Tillman Story also suffers a little, only a little mind, from falling into the trap of myth-making and hero building that was so despicable falling the original cover up. Bar-Lev never goes anywhere near the extremes of that first wave of myth-making but there are a few moments where Bar-Lev constructs too neat an image of Pat Tillman, despite obviously attempting to avoid it. Josh Brolin’s voiceover at one point comments, for instance, that Pat never cheated on his wife which, although possibly true, is neatly presented as a fact and one that attests to his character.

The Tillman Story is an uneven documentary and one that could have been crafted much more skilfully. It is nonetheless incredibly compelling in parts and for anyone unfamiliar with the story it represents a good introduction to what is a shocking and disgusting entry in military history.

This review was originally posted at HeyUGuys.