New Documentary on Pat Tillman Is a Blindside Tackle

So we’re left with a grieving family funneling its energies toward the possibility of a vast conspiracy, and a director eager to pour gasoline on any fires they stoke.

That doesn’t make the military any less guilty for spinning Tillman’s death so efficiently in the immediate aftermath of the incident.

And there’s a fine line between leaders helping to rally the nation around the war effort and exploiting its own fighting men and women for that cause. The film reminds audiences of the Jessica Lynch affair, Exhibit A for how not to go about such an effort.

We’re privy to plenty of anti-military rhetoric in between testimonials to Tillman’s unflappable character. One Ranger says he didn’t join the armed forces for patriotic reasons, but for selfish ones. Why does that matter to the story if only to throw a negative light on a soldier‘s sense of duty?

And Dannie Tillman’s theory on the reason her son died is rather ugly, saying his fellow Rangers had a “lust to fight.” That’s a heated, and potentially unfair, way to slander men who will have to live with the death of a comrade on their hands for the rest of their lives.

Frankly, for her protection the scene should have been left out. A grieving mother shouldn’t be exploited.

Other anti-military moments seep in, too, like the outrage expressed in the film over the ban on photographing flag-draped coffins en route to the U.S. It’s merely taken as an article of faith that the public should see those pictures. Can’t we hear the other side of the issue?

The film’s most poignant moments belong to the Tillman family. The future Ranger and his two brothers kicked up a ruckus around the home, cussing like sailors but sticking by each other as only brothers can. Tillman married his high school sweetheart, and in several sports-related interviews comes across as blunt but selfless.

He was a hero even if he never fired a shot in Afghanistan or Iraq, and it's impossible not to mourn right along with this impressive family unit.

Minor coincidences are trotted out like a shooting gallery of smoking guns, but some fire only blanks. Attempts to pin the cover-up on President George W. Bush are weak, but more incriminating are the actions of the generals who claim not to remember a memo the film insists is proof of a cover-up. Again, here’s where a neutral observer might offer more definitive proof.

The Tillman Story, despite its urgency and relentless pace, turns the subject’s death into something he would have cursed. The real Tillman didn't want to be a recruitment tool, but in the hands of Bar-Lev he’s become a tool for those eager to swat the Bush administration, an irony lost on everyone involved.