The square jawed intensity that one of this documentary’s participants describes of its subject Pat Tillman is seen in the very first shot after the opening credits.
It’s a video close-up of Tillman for some sort of promotional football spot for his team, the Arizona Cardinals.
In it Tillman takes direction from a voice off camera and he is clearly uncomfortable yet performs the task with confidence.
As narrator Josh Brolin tells us, Tillman left a multimillion-dollar football contract to join the military in 2002. He was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan in 2004. This was covered up by higher ups who wove a complex web of distortion of the real circumstances.
Tillman’s family, including his youngest brother Richard who was on the same tour of duty, weren’t satisfied with what they were being told. A wealth of documents and other soldier’s recollections painted a far different picture.
Through the media Tillman became a symbol of the Bush administration’s bogus Iraq war narrative as details of his character were trotted out for their own ends. He was a Noam Chomsky reading, all religion tolerating atheist, All American sports star, so, of course, he was an image to be manipulated into a tool of propaganda.
The man’s mother Mary “Danni” Tillman, dives into investigating her son’s death, calling every single person involved and trying to decipher 3,000 pages of redacted documents with the help of Stan Goff, an ex-military man turned activist blogger.
“The Tillman Story” is as incredibly moving as it is angering in its exploration of a massive spin operation. In its use of archival footage, photographs, and interviews there’s not a wasted moment in its masterful construction.
When evidence suggests that the tragic event was the result of not “the fog of war” but what Tillman’s mother calls “the lust of war” – Tillman’s fellow soldiers’ gun crazy thirst for combat – the film has us firmly in its grip and doesn’t let go.
Director Bar-Lev, whose previous doc MY KID COULD PAINT THAT was also a winner, shifts from development to development in a highly engaging manner. The obligatory ominous background music never intrudes in a Michael Moore manner, and the film never indulges in anything but the facts.
And the facts as presented are overwhelming.
The governmental gaps in the facts not only disrespect Tillman, his family, and the public record, they insult the entire system for which he lost his life.
THE TILLMAN STORY is by far one of the best, if not the best, documentaries of the year. As unpleasant and sickening as the story it tells often is, its power comes from the courage and strength of the family left behind, which no doubt will touch and inspire many movie goers.
That is if the masses that normally ignore modern war documentaries actually give it a chance.