New Documentary on Pat Tillman Is a Blindside Tackle

The Tillman Story recalls the remarkable life of NFL standout Pat Tillman, the bruiser who ditched millions for the chance to serve his country.

It’s also the latest film to assault the military and former President George W. Bush -- although the former brought some heat on itself. It’s a minor miracle the images from Abu Ghraib didn’t make the final cut.

Tillman is shrewdly assembled by director Amir Bar-Lev, a rare documentary that doesn’t fall back on slick animation or other tics to keep us engaged. It’s also uniformly one-sided. The film testifies to Tillman‘s fighting spirit and the tight-knit family which forged his character. In between, the movie tries to spin the Tillman myth in incredulous directions.

That’s a shame because Tillman deserves better.

The film is anchored by Dannie Tillman, Pat’s mother, as well as the rest of his nuclear family. They recall their emotional evolution from horror to outrage as the story of Tillman’s death shifted over time.

A very private family endured the public mourning when news broke of Tillman‘s death. Once the truth trickled out -- he died at the hands of his fellow Rangers in a tragic accident -- they got suspicious. The family’s investigation led all the way to … President George W. Bush, the man whose party wanted to use Tillman’s “heroic” death as a recruitment tool.

The only problem is the “conspiracy” in question showed its cards five weeks after the tragedy. That’s when the military revealed the nature of Tillman‘s death after the initial investigation ended. Government officials also handed over thousands of pages of investigation notes to the family. Much of the material was redacted, which set the family’s Spider-sense a tingling.

It’s one thing for a grieving family in search of closure to see wickedness around every document drop. But Tillman can’t really connect enough dots to make the charges stick. It’s common for information initially recorded during war to be wrong, or incomplete, something the film admits and then conveniently forgets. Some military members were told to hush about the case in those first few days after Tillman’s death, but that could simply be so the investigation could run its course before any official information leaked out.

After all, Tillman wasn’t just another soldier.

But those angles aren’t included here. In fact, the military isn’t allowed to speak on its behalf during the film, nor do we hear from neutral military experts who might shed light on the matter.