“I’m Pat fucking Tillman!” Those were the last words shouted by Army Ranger, Pat Tillman, before he was killed in Afghanistan in 2004. By now, we all should know the facts about Tillman: He was an NFL star for the Arizona Cardinals who gave up a lucrative pro football career to join the Army soon after the 9/11 attacks. His reason was very basic; he thought it was the right thing to do. Together with his brother, Kevin, the two men became Rangers and were sent to fight the war in the Middle East.
Initially, Tillman fought in Iraq, which irked him. In his eyes, he thought the mission in Iraq was fucked up. He thought they should have been hunting Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. Like so many young men and women who signed up when the war began, Tillman wanted to bring down the enemies responsible for attacking the USA. After a tour of duty in Iraq, Tillman was offered an opportunity to resign from the Army. However, he had signed a contract and was going to honor it by serving his full time in the military. Tillman was then deployed to Afghanistan.
On April 22, 2004, near the Pakistan border, Tillman and his unit came under fire and the soldier was killed. The initial reports of his death stated that the incident involved hostile forces. Tillman was awarded the Silver Star and received a hero’s funeral, much to the chagrin of his family. It was later revealed that Tillman died from friendly fire and that commanding officers in the U.S Military knew about this days after the occurrence. Yet, they went forward with their plans to lionize Tillman and make him the face of heroism for the War on Terror. They covered up the facts and turned Tillman into a propaganda tool. They thought they could get away with it. However, they picked the wrong family to do this to, the wrong family to fuck with, (“fuck” is a favorite word amongst the Tillmans). The Tillmans began searching for the truth surrounding Pat’s death and their search for answers is what The Tillman Story is about.
Directed by Amir Bar-Lev (My Kid Could Paint That) and narrated by Josh Brolin (Milk, True Grit), this documentary is engaging, painful at times, and also funny. The Tillman family recounts the life of their beloved Pat, from his childhood, to high school, where he met his future wife, Marie, to his college career and the long odds that faced him when he was drafted by the Cardinals. This is the true story of the man, not the glorified version that became news fodder after his death. Through the family’s words, we meet a man with an enormous capacity of honor and loyalty. He was well read and not religious, something that proved an embarrassment for the officials who held a very public funeral service for Tillman. At it, Tillman’s younger brother, Richard, took to the podium and addressed the large crowd in attendance. He declared, “He’s not with God, he’s fucking dead. He’s not religious.” He also added, “Thanks for your thoughts, but he’s fucking dead.”
In addition to interviews with Tillman’s loved ones, we also hear from some of the soldiers who served with him, men who were with him when he died. They were forced to comply with the military cover up. When the camera zeros in on their faces as they reveal the truth about how Pat Tillman was killed, you can see that guilt has eaten away at them. However, their guilt is nothing compared to the anguish experienced by the grieving family. Their pain was only made worse by the lies and runarounds that they received when trying to get the truth. All they wanted was closure. It took a long time to get the truth, but it still appears that they have not received full closure.
The film’s original title was “I’m Pat Fucking Tillman,” but it was changed, for obvious reasons. The change to The Tillman seems more appropriate, as this movie is just as much about the Tillman family as it is about Pat. Their strength and perseverance is a model for any American, I only wish it hadn’t come through such dire circumstances.