I had myself a good chuckle when I saw Josh Brolin’s name at the end, having him listed as the narrator for The Tillman Story.  Given his anti-Bush views, he seems to be the only one that could have narrated this.  Surprisingly, his own views are quite limited, as he just narrates the action – and does a good job at the job, playing it straight while leaving the overall question open for debate: who covered up Pat Tillman’s death?

Which, while I’m at it, I’m going to mention the one crucial failing of this film.  The film makers decide, much like Brolin in his job as narrator, to just go with the proceedings.  They don’t offer their own insight, instead just relying on the Tillman family and their point of view.  The biggest point that this appears at is towards the end, when Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and other high ranking generals and officials within the Bush administration are questioned about the cover up and the memo that was leaked that basically told President Bush not to mention anything about the actual events that resulted in Pat Tillman’s death.  There’s a strong suggestion that Rumsfeld knew and instigated the cover up, but nothing is followed through, either proving it or dismissing it.  The work is still on going, though mainly by Pat Tillman’s father.

That’s about the only thing wrong with this film, and if you can overlook that (kind of hard to do, since it is one of the last things shown), this is quite a strong presentation about Pat Tillman, who walked away from an NFL contract, joined the Army Rangers, and did two tours of Afghanistan and a tour of Iraq before being killed in a friendly fire incident during the second tour of Afghanistan.  Tillman was an inspiring individual in general: he grew up, played college football and signed an NFL contract with the Arizona Cardinals and made the team, despite his shorter than average height for a defensive back.  He was a free thinker who spoke his mind and didn’t hold anything back (for example, he agreed with Afghanistan but didn’t understand why the U.S. had to enter Iraq for fallacious reasons).  His youngest brother, when interviewed during the film, spoke of their mother as their inspiration for not giving up (she finished dead last in a marathon).  His reasons for joining the Army Rangers were never explicitly given, though many draw his views from an interview conducted with the Arizona football players the day after 9/11.  And he refused to allow the United States to use him as a recruiting tool either, making sure that he was given a private funeral and not an Army ceremony if he died.  That obviously wasn’t followed through.

There was a lot of detail given over to the day of Tillman’s death, which started off as quite confusing and ended even more confusing, with Tillman and an Afghan soldier killed in the incident.  The resulting cover up stemmed from the fact that it was Pat Tillman who was killed, though I imagine that, if anyone else were killed, their actual death would have been concealed as well*.  Much of what was done that day was to prevent Tillman’s younger brother (not interviewed, as he went into seclusion after his three year service was concluded), who joined the Army Rangers the same time as Pat did, from learning what occurred, as he was at the incident but didn’t witness the event.  The cover up was quite convincing, complete with a Silver Star awarded to Tillman after his death, but bits and pieces of information started leaking out.  It was Tillman’s mother that did a lot of the work in breaking down the cover up and exposing what really occurred on the day of her son’s death, going all the way to a House hearing to find out exactly who or what covered up her son’s death.  All signs pointed to someone really high, but we’ll never know for sure.

An excellent piece of film making, if mainly for a biography of Pat Tillman and his family, but also about the dangers of covering up a loved one’s death and the work that went to exposing the secrets and lies.

A-

* A couple of days after seeing this film, I came across a story about a U.S. soldier who committed suicide after refusing to be an accessory for humiliating captured Iraqi soldiers.  Her death was covered up, but like Tillman, the true story was discovered.  This is just to make the point that anyone’s death can be covered up, whether or not that person was well known like Pat Tillman or little known, like the soldier in the article linked.

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