Sony // 2010 // 95 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // February 9th, 2011
A mystery. A cover up. A crime. One family will risk everything for the truth.
Pat Tillman was a household name in 2002. We all heard the story: he dropped a promising football career and enlisted in the Army following 9/11. Then he was killed. And his heroism and sacrifice were lauded across the land. Turns out the story isn't as simple as that.
In 2002, college football start Pat Tillman shocked his family by joining the Army. After several combat tours, Tillman was killed in the hills of Afghanistan. Originally thought to be KIA from an enemy fusillade, it was later revealed he had suffered from friendly fire -- a fact that was held back from the family.
As his service was lauded, his death grieved and he became an icon for the selfless patriot (which, really, he was) the family held suspicions that things were shady and this film chronicles the utter dumbness of the Pentagon brass in trying to craft fiction that suited a narrative.
Seriously, these guys are dumb-asses. I'm about as far from Noam Chomsky (who allegedly was set to meet with Tillman when he returned from combat) as you get and even I am flabbergasted at the utter ineptitude and dickishness of the Pentagon highers-up that thought it would be a good idea to keep the truth from Tillman's family and promote a misshapen portrait of a young man who seemingly did not want his life to be used in such a way.
Director Amir Bar-Lev has put together a compelling documentary on this sad episode, chronicling Tillman's life, leading up to his sure-fire career in pro football and his stunning decision to put it on hold and join the military. (Which in itself is still remarkable and applause-worthy, by the way; whatever political views he may have held, the stink-bomb cover-up should not detract from what is a genuinely noble move.)
Bar-Lev eventually gets into the nuts of bolts of the friendly fire incident, utilizing footage of the Army investigator's video tour re-creation and interviews with Tillman's comrades. Then it's on to the most provocative elements of the film, the revelations of the cover-up, the family's emotional fallout and their trek to Capitol Hill to attend hearings on the matter -- and sit there frustrated.
It makes for a captivating odyssey of a family trying to get to the truth and that emotional punch anchors the film. These folks were misled and their slain son was propped up as PR mechanism.
The Blu-ray looks and sounds great, the 1.78:1, 1080p transfer a clear and highly detailed slab of HD. Everything comes across nicely, even the candid footage from the memorial service and the investigator's walk-through. A clean, but sedate 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio pushes the sound. Granted, The Tillman Story isn't going to occupy the same reference disc space as, say, Transformers, but it's a well-performing technical presentation. One extra: a director's commentary.
There is one major issue I have with the film. As the incident is re-created, there is a not-so-subtle implication that Tillman wasn't merely killed by friendly fire, but assassinated (though all reports indicate he was well-liked by his unit). Mrs. Tillman speculates that the convoy stopped and opened fire not because of the fog of war but because they wanted to light off some ammo. I cede to her moral authority when it comes to her son and the cover-up, but I stop short on her battlefield theorizing.
The Tillman Story is a strong documentary and the Blu-ray is well put-together. More extras would have been appreciated.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Rated R