The Tillman Story weaves three stories together: the making of Pat Tillman, how he died in Afghanistan and his family’s struggle to pull the sheets back on the US military’s cover-up. At its core, it is the story of people who insist on truth dealing with a system that operates on perception.
I thought I knew the story. Tillman left the fame and wealth of an NFL career to enlist in the Army post-911. He was killed in a firefight in Afghanistan. The Army reported that he was killed while heroically charging the enemy to save his comrades. It was later revealed that he was killed by fire from his comrades. Still later, it became clear that the heroic death story was immediately concocted by the military for spin control or, worse, propaganda.
I didn’t know that Tillman predicted that the Army would propagandize his death and smuggled out to his wife the documentation of his wish for a civilian funeral. I didn’t know that Tillman crouched on a hill watching the bombing of Baghdad, and said, “This war is so fucking illegal.” I didn’t know that Tillman was with the team that waited hours to “rescue” captured soldier Jessica Lynch (abandoned by her captors) until a film crew arrived.
The US military made a huge miscalculation: they assumed that the family that produced someone with Pat Tillman’s values would be satisfied with a phony narrative of cartoonish heroism.
The more I think about The Tillman Story, the more I admire it. And I am increasingly grateful that Michael Moore didn’t make this movie and degrade it into a screed. Instead, Director Amir Bar-Lev avoids the simplistic and satisfying formulas and respects his subject matter and the audience by letting the story speak for itself.