The people of the United States have a special affinity for ‘hero’ stories. When the story of Pat Tillman first saturated into the general public, names like ‘hero’, ‘real American’ and ‘idol’ were thrown around. The fact of the matter is, through the documentary “The Tillman Story,” his family finally gets to go into depth on who he was, what he did, and what they went through trying to piece together his death in Afghanistan.
At times deeply moving, sad and confusing as to the events which occurred, the film shows that Tillman’s death needed to be corrected before his life story could be properly told.
The All-American football player, Tillman played for the Arizona Cardinals and suddenly, and without a public explanation, he left his NFL contract to join the army in 2002. In 2004 he was killed by fratricide (friendly fire), and thus sparked off a story from the army and the government which would turn out to be partly fabricated, incomplete and generally dishonest. In the documentary, we hear from his mother, brothers, father and some of the men he fought next to in Afghanistan and Iraq. The footage of Tillman’s memorial is gut-wrenching, as his brother speaks about him and tries to hold it together, failing miserably. Even though there are sad moments, the majority of the film will leave the audience curious to hear what really happened that day in Afghanistan, and to what lengths the government went to in covering it up.
The interviews have sincerity to them, especially when it comes to Tillman’s family who seem to have been there and back with the pain, suffering and frustration that stemmed from his death.
Tillman’s death was first reported to his family with very little detail from the army, except that his convoy was ambushed, and in the mix, he was killed by friendly fire. As Tillman’s mother digs through the piles of documents the family was given, she starts to uncover that there was more to the story. The murky account given which questions whether the convoy was even attacked at all is connected to the government’s desperate attempt to garner public support for the war in the Middle East, using him as a symbol for the government’s own political goals and purposes at that time.
Tillman’s mother shows her persistence over the years to find out the real story of his demise, and it is a testament to her love for her son and is truly touching and heartbreaking to see.
The overwhelming sentiment of the film is that Tillman was generally just a decent well-grounded guy, and good hearted to boot. Despite his sports-centered life, he was also well read and intelligent, good looking and cared immensely for his family. He married his high school sweetheart, had an affinity for risk taking that played a part in his football career and enlistment in the army. It seems the documentary is painting an unrealistic picture of an all-around perfect guy, but his family insists he also had flaws, even though they never spell out exactly what these were.
The closing scenes of the film show just how far the government will go with their attempts to not admit fault in any way for Tillman’s death or their cover-up attempts. There is a cringe-worthy court scene that will not long be forgotten which captures the true impossibility of trying to get the government to rectify their disrespect for Tillman as a man and a soldier. It is frustrating and infuriating to watch, and ultimately, the story of his death never gets complete clarity and explanation. Even though the details are never totally sorted, his family seems to get some closure by paying tribute to Tillman as the real person he was, instead of the political symbol and patriotic idol that the government and the U.S. citizens tried to turn him into.
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