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29 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Remember the Iconoclast, Not the Icon, January 21, 2011
This review is from: The Tillman Story (DVD)
Amir Bar-Lev's film "The Tillman Story" contributes to the restoration of Pat Tillman's legacy by honoring the man, not the myth. The iconoclast, not the icon. As his mother said, "Pat would have wanted to be remembered as an individual, not as a stock figure or political prop. Pat was a real hero, not what they used him as."

Amir Bar-Lev, the film's director, tells three stories that interweave together throughout his film: a biography of Pat Tillman (growing up, playing in the NFL, joining the Army Rangers with his brother Kevin after 9/11), how he was killed in Afghanistan in 2004 and his friendly-fire death covered up by the Army, and his family's battle to learn the truth after smokescreens were thrown in their face by the highest levels of the Army and government (both Republicans and Democrats).

"The Tillman Story" is an apt title. The film follows the outline of Mary Tillman's memoir "Boots on the Ground by Dusk," many of the interviews are with members of the Tillman family (mother, father, brother, and wife) and the film is centered around their experiences in the aftermath of Pat Tillman's death. The Tillman's are a loyal, close-knit family that displays much more honor and integrity than their country's leadership.

The film uses nicely selected & edited news clips and interviews that portray an iconoclastic Pat Tillman not widely known to the public - a fiercely independent thinker, an avid reader, and critic of the Iraq war ("...this war is so ----ing illegal"). Pat was a remarkable man who was driven by a core of honesty and integrity, led by personal example, and lived his life intensely.

See the film. Nearly everything most people think they know about Pat Tillman, his family, and the story is wrong. And the film has more humor and laughs than you would expect, especially if you don't mind a few f-bombs; the original title of the film was "I'm Pat ----ing Tillman!" which fits better in some respects: those were Pat Tillman's last words, the Tillman family drops F-bombs where appropriate (or not) and it suggests that Pat Tillman was more complex than his iconic image. The beginning and end of the film, with Pat just looking at the camera was especially poignant for me.

In 2005, I was angered that the truth about Pat's life and death had been buried by the media and government. Tillman was enshrined as an icon while the man fell by the wayside, his family used as props at his funeral for war propaganda. Pat's family still don't have the meager consolation of knowing the full truth about his death. "The truth may be painful, but it's the truth," his mother said. "If you feel you're being lied to, you can never put it to rest."

I hope the Oscar judges are also moved by "The Tillman Story". It would be great if the film was awarded Best Documentary (or at least placed in the final five on 1/25/11). Except for "Restrepo", I haven't yet seen the other Oscar contenders. Perhaps "The Tillman Story" is not technically the "best" documentary of the bunch, but I believe it tells the best, most compelling story.

"The Tillman Story" documentary is a good introduction to the Pat Tillman story. However, the director Amir Bar-Lev tried to cover a lot of ground in only 94 minutes (he cut the film down from 2 1/2 hours). At times the film rushes through the material passing over the details (especially concerning the cover-up of Tillman's friendly-fire death.

To fill in the details, I'd suggest starting with Gary Smith's profile "Remember His Name" ( 9-11-06), Mike Fish's "An Un-American Tragedy" series (2006, and the most recent profile by Mick Brown "Betrayal of an All-American Hero" (The Telegraph 10-07-10).

For books, I'd suggest Mary Tillman's memoir "Boots on the Ground by Dusk" (blurb website has a preview) which the film was largely based upon, or Jon Krakauer's "Where Men Win Glory" (revised paperback has more on Army cover-up). But, although Krakuaer has the best account of the actual friendly-fire incident and the Army's cover-up, his book is a flawed work since Krakauer lost the trust and cooperation of the Tillman family (except for Marie) and failed to describe how President Obama and the Democratic Congress continued the Bush administration & Army cover-up.

For blogs, try John T. Reed's Tillman posts (see his "military articles" at johntreed website) and "The [Untold] Tillman Story" at the feralfirefighter blog.

. . .

Amir Bar-Lev: "... when I've shown the film to left-wing audiences. Their takeaway is, `what a horrible [Bush] administration we just had!' I think that's letting yourself off the hook, as if there were just a handful of bad apples, and `thank God they're gone.'"

Shortly after Sundance, Bar-Lev emailed me that "he was pretty hard on the Democratic Congress in his film." True, his film does portray Congressman Henry Waxman's Oversight Committee as ineptly failing to get answers from the top military leadership during their hearing.

However, the film missed telling the "untold story" that President Obama and the Democratic Congress continued the Bush & Army cover-up by shielding Gen. Stanley McChrystal (and other officers) from scrutiny of his central role in the cover-up of Pat Tillman's friendly-fire death. This cover-up was a thoroughly bi-partisan affair. It wasn't just a case of the Bush administration and the Army stonewalling the Democratic Congress. Congress didn't just "fumble" the ball, they threw the game.

It's not surprising that after their initial cover-up of Pat Tillman's friendly-fire death fell apart, Army officers and the Bush administration lied to protect themselves. But after they took control of Congress in 2006, the Democrats (including Senator Carl Levin, Senator James Webb, and Congressman Henry Waxman) could have gone after those responsible. Or at least not promoted them!

Just before the 2006 mid-term elections, Kevin Tillman published his eloquent letter, "After Pat's Birthday" at

"Somehow our elected leaders were subverting international law and humanity by setting up secret prisons around the world, secretly kidnapping people, secretly holding them indefinitely, secretly not charging them with anything, secretly torturing them. Somehow that overt policy of torture became the fault of a few "bad apples" in the military."

"Somehow torture is tolerated. ... Somehow lying is tolerated. ... Somehow faking character, virtue and strength is tolerated. ... Somehow a narrative is more important than reality."

"Somehow American leadership, whose only credit is lying to its people and illegally invading a nation, has been allowed to steal the courage, virtue and honor of its soldiers on the ground. ... Somehow the same incompetent, narcissistic, virtueless, vacuous, malicious criminals are still in charge of this country. Somehow this is tolerated. Somehow nobody is accountable for this."

Kevin had hoped a Democratic Congress would bring accountability back to our country. But, just as with warrant-less wiretapping and torture, those responsible for the cover-up of his brother's friendly-fire death have never been held accountable for their actions.

. . .

Amir Bar-Lev: "You don't make these films to show your friends and family. You make them to have an impact. Screening the film there was part of a larger strategy to return Pat to his family and to restore the legacy Pat would have wanted."

Last July, I sent Amir Bar-Lev a letter arguing his film would have greater "impact" if he also told the "untold story" of the complicity of President Obama and the Democratic Congress in continuing the Bush administration & Army cover-up of Tillman's friendly-fire death up through Gen. McChrystal's June 2009 Senate confirmation. But, he didn't update his film.

Consequently, "The Tillman Story" was ignored by the news media since it didn't reveal any "news" about the Tillman story. The film simply wasn't very controversial. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who supervised much of the Army's cover-up and directed the writing of the fraudulent Silver Star (with fabricated witness statements), was barely a footnote. And, the film failed to show how President Obama and Democratic Congress continued the Bush administration and Army cover-up to protect Gen. McChrystal (among others). Largely because of a lack of publicity & controversy, the film had a peak showing at only 28 theaters (with a gross of only $800,000).

Hopefully, Amir Bar-Lev added extra features to his DVD that tell at least some of the "untold" story described in "The [Untold] Tillman Story" at the feralfirefighter blog(including parallels to Yoni Netanyahu who died at Entebbe in 1976 and Rachel Corrie who Pat Tillman called "my hero").
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Mar 7, 2011 9:10:22 AM PST
Frank Barker says:
Unfortunately no updating is on the DVD, bonus feature is a commentary track. Too bad.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 7, 2011 7:28:05 AM PDT
genesrus says:
thanks for the info
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