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The Tillman Story

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  • Posted January 21, 2011

    Remember the Iconoclast, Not the Icon

    "The Tillman Story" contributes to the restoration of Pat Tillman's legacy by honoring the man, not the myth. The iconoclast, not the icon. As his mother said, "Pat would have wanted to be remembered as an individual, not as a stock figure or political prop. Pat was a real hero, not what they used him as." Amir Bar-Lev tells three stories that interweave together throughout his film: a biography of Pat Tillman (growing up, playing in the NFL, joining the Army Rangers with his brother Kevin after 9/11), how he was killed in Afghanistan in 2004 and his friendly-fire death covered up by the Army, and his family's battle to learn the truth after smokescreens were thrown in their face by the highest levels of the Army and government. "The Tillman Story" is an apt title. The film follows the outline of Mary Tillman's memoir "Boots on the Ground by Dusk" (at blurb site with a preview), many of the interviews are with members of the Tillman family (mother, father, brother, and wife) and the film is centered around their experiences in the aftermath of Pat Tillman's death. The film uses well selected film clips and interviews to portray an iconoclastic Pat Tillman not widely known to the public - a fiercely independent thinker, an avid reader, and critic of the Iraq war ("...this war is so ----ing illegal"). Pat was a remarkable man who was driven by a core of honesty and integrity, led by personal example, and lived his life intensely. See the film. Nearly everything most people think they know about Pat Tillman, his family, and the story is wrong. And the film has more humor and laughs than you would expect, especially if you don't mind a few F-bombs; the original title of the film was "I'm Pat ----ing Tillman!" which also fits: those were Pat Tillman's last words, the Tillman family drops F-bombs where appropriate (or not) and it suggests that Pat Tillman was more complex than his iconic image. In 2005, I was angered that the truth about Pat's life and death had been buried by the media and government. Tillman was enshrined as an icon while the man fell by the wayside, his family used as props at his funeral for war propaganda. Pat Tillman's family still don't have the meager consolation of knowing the full truth about his death. "The truth may be painful, but it's the truth," his mother said. "If you feel you're being lied to, you can never put it to rest." I hope the Oscar judges are also moved by "The Tillman Story". It would be great if the film was awarded Best Documentary (or at least placed in the final five). Perhaps "The Tillman Story" is not technically the "best" documentary of the bunch, but I believe it tells the best, most compelling story. The film covers a lot of ground in only 94 minutes (the film was cut from 2 1/2 hours), rushing through the material and leaving out the details. To fill in the details, I'd suggest: Gary Smith's "Remember His Name" (Sports Illustrated, 9-11-06), Mike Fish's "An Un-American Tragedy" series (2006, ESPN), Mick Brown's "Betrayal of an All-American Hero" (The Telegraph 10-07-10), Mary Tillman's book, and Jon Krakauer's "Where Men Win Glory". For blogs, see John T. Reed's "military articles" at his johntreed site) and the "The [Untold] Tillman Story" at the feralfirefighter blog.

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