“The Tillman Story” features footage of the glowing tributes to Pat Tillman in football stadiums, his family on the field appearing stoic, almost uncomfortable.
So, it is no surprise that Amir Bar-Lev, writer and director of the powerful documentary that details the cover-up of the circumstances of Tillman’s friendly-fire death in Afghanistan in 2004, had to sell the family on the endeavor.
“The Tillmans are not people who seek out publicity,” he said. “Convincing them it would be a worthwhile project took some time.”
The result is a film that does not deify Tillman, the former Arizona State and Arizona Cardinals star who left football in 2002 to enlist in the Army with his brother, Kevin. Much of the focus on Pat Tillman’s life is on the characteristics that made him ordinary.
The primary purpose is the pursuit of truth — spearheaded by mother Mary “Dannie” Tillman as soon as the Pentagon’s tale of a heroic death fell apart.
Mary Tillman’s book, “Boots on the Ground by Dusk: My Tribute to Pat Tillman,” inspired Bar-Lev’s writing. With the help of retired special operations soldier Stan Goff, she waded through thousands of pages of heavily redacted military documents related to her son’s death and cracked the code.
A federal investigation was launched, culminating in a 2008 Congressional hearing in which former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was among those testifying. The footage of the Tillman family sitting in the back of the hearing room, bewildered at the evasive answers and unsatisfactory outcome, is among the film’s moving final scenes.
“There’s a lot of people out there who think they know the story or Pat Tillman, but I’m confident that when people see the film, what they think they know will be the tip of the iceberg,” Bar-Lev said. “What his mom accomplished is really an amazing feat of patriotism. She figured out how high the cover-up went, then vigorously pursued the truth — not for Pat, but for the principles involved.”
Bar-Lev insists that “The Tillman Story” is not a political statement or commentary on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq — although Pat Tillman’s disillusionment with the Iraq occupation is made abundantly clear.
Viewers will likely be touched by the courage and persistence of a remarkable mother and family and revolted at the extent to which authorities will go to make truth a war casualty.
‘The Tillman Story’
Featuring: Pat Tillman, Mary “Dannie” Tillman, Patrick Tillman Sr., Marie Tillman, Richard Tillman, Russell Baer, Bryan O’Neal, Stan Goff
Narrator: Josh Brolin
Rating: R (language)
Time: 1 hour, 34 minutes