“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 Iraq , 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?
 The 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 Middle East .  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