Documentarian Amir Bar-Lev does an incredible job with this film because he has to walk a very difficult line. Tillman never wanted the spotlight. He opped out of having a big governmental funeral and never wanted to have interviews about his decision to leave the NFL and enlist into the US Army. He believed in his country and was a brave man, but he did not want to be used for propaganda.
If that’s the case, should this movie be made? It’s still using the image of Tillman for alternative reasons, but is that a difference? The film is not called The Pat Tillman Story but The Tillman Story. Pat is the central point, but the narrative is about the Tillmans that remained.
By now, almost every knows that Pat Tillman was killed by friendly fire, but that is not what was initially said. His death was used to help sell the war to the American public. Nothing was reported or questioned even with fellow soldiers testifying towards the truth. It wasn’t until Pat’s mom spent years going through the public records and trying to un-redact the classified material.
As the investigation continues, the worse it appears. It does not just look like someone made careless mistakes. Instead the film makes some serious accusations towards high government officials. Just like how Bar-Lev tackled the modern art world in My Kid Could Paint That, he uses a personal family story to bring forth legitimate questions about an institution. Every interview is incredibly fascinating and since he’s talking to Pat’s family and friends, they are incredibly passionate.
The only time the film lost its way was when they were just focusing on Pat as a person. I’m glad they debunked some of his legendary persona. Even knowing his last words doesn’t make him John Wayne. However when his family continues to praise him for many frames, it just feels like he’s being used again and then the film feels dirty.
This movie feels different than other political message movies. This is a closed story. There is no call for advocacy or even a layer of hope. This is something that has happened and it is important people know more of the facts because it could happen again.