“The Tillman Story”
This is Ron Salfen, “At The Movies,” and here’s my commentary
on a film now showing in Dallas, “The Tillman Story.”
Pat Tillman was the poster child for
the American military of the ought decade: the NFL defensive back for the
Arizona Cardinals, who resigned at the height of his stellar career, giving
up a multimillion dollar contract, to sign up for the Army, as an enlisted
man. He never publicly gave any
reason: the new macho code of
“never explain, never complain?” He
got shipped to
, presumably at his own request. (Well,
it would not have been very dramatic to give up a lucrative professional
football career to say, peel potatoes.)
Pat Tillman saw real combat, and placed himself in harm’s way.
Though he could have opted out after his first tour, and even resume
his football career, he chose to fulfill his original military commitment,
and was tragically killed in action. No,
wait, then the Army says he was actually felled by “friendly fire.”
Well, how did that happen, exactly?
grieving family is trying to find answers.
Director Amir Bar-Lev patiently walks us through the subsequent
investigations, by the Army itself, then a Congressional hearing.
The Army sends to the family their entire six-volume report, with
names crossed out “for security purposes.”
In this level-headed documentary, the members of Corporal Tillman’s
former platoon are interviewed, as well, and finally we begin to understand
something of how it happened: there
were two patrols, and one of them, hearing an explosion and gunfire, circles
back over the hill to help the other, but is mistaken for the enemy and
fired upon. OK, that could
happen. But there’s another
ugly truth wandering around somewhere:
that the guys who volunteer to be there with guns in their hands love
the mayhem, and are not always very careful about selecting their targets.
Is it possible to become enamored of the lawless chaos?
Oh, and there’s the clear implication that the “powers that be”
used Pat Tillman’s story for their own political purposes, because it was
priceless p.r.: low-keying, or
even actively covering up, the friendly-fire angle.
And just how high on the command chain were those decisions made?
Well, that’s still the question, isn’t it?
To Bar-Lev’s credit, he doesn’t
try to portray Pat Tillman as a saint, or his family, either.
There is a resoundingly memorable statement of anti-faith by his
younger brother at the public funeral, reminding the mourners that Pat
Tillman was not a believer, and assuring those gathered that there is no
resurrection, there is no afterlife, his brother is just bleeping dead
(expletive deleted). The
family does strongly believe that Pat Tillman should neither be the idolized
and idealized martyr, nor anybody’s poster child for patriotism or
heroism. But celebrity stories
take on a life of their own in our culture, don’t they?
In “The Tillman Story,” the viewer
is left with an indelible impression of the anonymous horrors of our
military presence in the
. This documentary is not,
ostensibly, anti-war. But we
have to ask ourselves what we’re doing over there, sending our strong,
upright young men who just might come home in a coffin.
And the family is still asking, “Why?”
This is Ron Salfen, “At The
Movies,” for 93.5 KICK-FM