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Tillman Story, The (2010)

Release Date:
Friday, August 20, 2010

MPAA Rating:

Rating Reason:
For language


Josh Brolin,

Written By:
Mark Monroe

Amir Bar-Lev

Official Site:

When Pat Tillman gave up his professional football career to join the Army Rangers in 2002, he became an instant symbol of patriotic fervor and unflinching duty. But the truth about Pat Tillman is far more complex...

Tillman Story, The (2010) | Review

A Story About Stories
Darrel Manson

Content Image
A few months after 9/11, All-Pro NFL player Pat Tillman left his lucrative career behind to join the Army with his brother. He was immediately seen as a patriot, even though he never spoke of his decision publicly. Two years later, he was killed in Afghanistan, and was immediately lauded as a great American hero. As weeks and months went by, more information began to come out about his death. Nothing detracted from his heroism, but it certainly made the military look bad.The Tillman Story provides a look into not only the tragic death of Pat Tillman, but also the story of his family's determination to find out what really happened. In the process there are questions raised about several serious issues.

Production notes for the film rightly call this "a story about stories." There is Pat Tillman's story—both the public acclaim made about his decision and a more personal look at this life. We see the heroism of Pat Tillman is it really was, not as it was portrayed by those who used it for their own purposes. There is also the story of his family, who would have preferred to mourn in private, but were thrust into the public eye at a very vulnerable time.

The story of Tillman's death is several stories in itself. First there was the shocking news that he was killed in an ambush by about twenty Taliban fighters. He is said to have been leading his comrades to "take the battle to the enemy" when he was cut down. For his heroism, he was awarded the Silver Star. A few weeks later the military announced that he was possibly killed by friendly fire in the "fog of war" as his unit battled against the enemy. Later accounts raise doubts if there was any enemy present, or only soldiers who were anxious for battle and acted with poor judgment. We learn that this is not a matter of new information being discovered, but that the truth was known to the military almost from the beginning.

As the Tillman family pushed for more information, an investigation was held, but showed no convincing evidence of the stories that had been told. Eventually there was an investigation of the investigation, and then a congressional inquiry. But in the end, what really happened has never come to light. The film suggests, but cannot prove, that the highest military and administration officials were aware of the truth, but have covered it up.

At the center of all of this are the stories we tell ourselves to make war more palatable. We want to have heroes. Pat Tillman was easy for the press, the military, and politicians to grab onto to promote their own agendas. This happened when he enlisted, and again after his death. This isn't new, of course. Clint Eastwood's Flags of our Fathers tells of the way the propaganda machine made use of the famous photo taken on Iwo Jima. In the case of Pat Tillman, we see many layers of falsehood and complicity—military, political, media—all done in order to feed that desire for heroism in wartime.

To what extent are we willing to allow truth to be a casualty of war?For the Tillman family, that has become a very real question.They only wanted to know what happened to their son, brother, husband. Should they have a right to that truth?Should they have a right to their anger as they encountered lie after lie?

The Tillman Story is not anti-war or anti-military (although the military command structure is not shown in a complimentary light).It raises questions that our whole society needs to consider if the values that led Pat Tillman to serve in the Army are to have any meaning.

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