Movie Review: The Tillman Story (2011)

He gave his life for this… and THEM?! __ 9/10
Review by Brian Wright

A rerelease of the original review seven years ago, on the threshold of the 2019-20 NFL draft. Let’s keep in mind every time you see the flyovers of military jets at your next football game. — Ed.

Pat Tillman: (per Russell Baer) “I’m Pat Fucking Tillman! I’m Pat Fucking Tillman! Stop shooting! Stop shooting!” (April 2, 2004, Afghanistan)

Pat Tillman, in case you were away, was the former NFL safety who enlisted in the Army to fight terrorism overseas. He was killed in action 4/2/2004, which later was discovered to have been ‘friendly fire.’ The government and military did their best to cover up and contain the truth of what happened to Pat Tillman; this movie lays open the harsh reality.

Screenplay by Mark Monroe
Narrated by Josh Brolin
Directed by Amir Bar-Lev

Pat Tillman … Himself (archive)
Dannie Tillman … Herself (mother)
Russell Baer … Himself (soldier)
Patrick Tillman Sr. … Himself (father)
Philip Kensinger … Himself (General)
Stan Goff … Himself (career soldier)
Jason Parsons … Himself (soldier)
Marie Tillman … Herself (wife)
Richard Tillman … Himself (brother)
Kevin Tillman … Himself (brother)

Stan Goff: [retired soldier, who helped with Dannie’s investigation] I run a blog, so I wrote something about the Tillman case, a commentary piece about perception management aspect of the war. She realized I’d been around: Vietnam, Guatemala, Grenada, El Salvador, Peru, Columbia, Somalia, three assignments with Ranger units, two assignments with the special forces unit, one assignment with the counter-terrorist unit. It wasn’t just that I had experience in Pat’s unit, also that I could sort of help them read the hieroglyphics in that special operations world. Because it is a culture.

Don Rumsfeld: [In memo to subordinate generals after he’s sent a special letter to Tillman thanking him for enlisting.] This Tillman kid is special. We might want to keep an eye on him.

Stan Goff: “‘Pat Tillman’s been killed.’ 45 minutes later, ‘he’s been killed by fratricide. Oh shit, what do we do now?’ Okay, let’s spin this as an heroic action, turn his dead body into a recruiting poster.”

Pat Tillman Sr.: They [the Army] destroyed his helmet, his body armor, his diary, every piece of evidence that could ever be used to determine what happened was eliminated.

Richard Tillman: You don’t do shit without telling your superior officer. “Oh, I’m gonna go burn Pat’s uniform.” No. You don’t piss without permission. This [coverup] goes damn high.

Richard Tillman: [Commenting on new investigation that comes after his dad Patrick Sr. sends a letter to Army telling them the first investigation is a lie and a joke, ends letter with ‘Fuck you.’] It blew me away they’d start an investigation after my dad’s letter. My mom’s been working on this for years. If she had just told them from the outset to go fuck themselves, she’d have saved tons of effort.

Narrator: [two days after close of (2d) investigation, leak of top-secret P4 memo–goes out to the highest generals in the land–seven days following incident, full month before family told it was fratricide] Genl. Stanley McChrystal had sent the P4 memo on April 29th after Bush speechwriters had requested details about Pat’s death. The memo states what the Army knew–fratricide (possibly intentional) with no enemy engagement–and be careful to avoid embarrassment if details become public.

Mary ‘Dannie’ Tillman (mother): It’s like our suspicions from the beginning were very much validated by that P4 memo. These generals had plenty of time to make sure we as a family were told the truth. But they chose not to tell us. [Narrator: the memo shows that the entire chain of command knew the truth but were afraid of the implications should the truth come out.]

Kevin Tillman: [April 2007, House convenes hearings on Tillman case. Even after hearing the platoon had been told to lie to him about his brother’s killing, Kevin insisted on completing his tour in Afghanistan. He went into seclusion following return. This was his first public statement.] … To our family and friends it was a devastating loss, to the nation it was a moment of disorientation, to the military it was a nightmare… but to others within the government it appears to have been an opportunity. A terrible tragedy was transformed into an inspirational message that served instead to support the nation’s foreign policy wars…. Our family has managed to have multiple investigations conducted, however, while each investigation gathered more information, the mountain of evidence was never used to arrive at an honest or even sensible conclusion. That is why we ask Congress as the sovereign representative of the whole people to investigate Pat’s death. Anything less than the truth is a betrayal of those values that all soldiers who have fought for this nation have sought to uphold.

Dannie Tillman: [After the generals denied having gotten or read the P4 memo] We were upset. The generals were clearly lying. And we thought they should have been called on it. [Patrick Tillman: This is an oversight committee, not a cheerleading outfit. They’re supposed to do some investigation. It was embarrassing to watch, they didn’t have the ammunition to cross-examine and catch them in obvious lies.]

Stan Goff: You know, a lot of politics is theatrical wrestling. Like behind the scenes, they have to make sure nobody gets hurt. [The hearing ends as a love fest between the representatives and the generals and Rumsfeld, laughing, shaking hands, adjourned, no investigation will be conducted.]

Richard Tillman: Pat would be unbelievably proud of her (his mother). She took it as far as she could take it… she knocked it out of the park. Unfortunately, the fucking government moved the fence back.

Dannie Tillman: It’s all I can do at this point. I held out hope at the last minute we could get answers. I don’t think there’s much else that can be done…

… except watch the movie and convict those responsible for Pat’s death (and all the other atrocities) then evict the entire US government. — bw

The material, 3,000 pages, that Dannie Tillman eventually received from the Army in volumes had been redacted (text blocked out) sometimes whole pages. From the account in the documentary, no evidence exists of any enemy engagement; my impression is Tillman and two others left their lead vehicle, climbed a hill in search of location of an explosion. The second vehicle arrived to the first vehicle shortly after, and the five men from that vehicle—fully aware that the men they were firing upon up the hill were friendlies—opened massive amounts of heavy machine-gun fire on Tillman’s location… on Tillman. The five shooters never gave a credible explanation for their actions. Orders to the platoon were to not discuss the event with anyone else.

To me, and I’m sure to a lot of casual observers, the Pat Tillman killing does not look like incompetence as much as it resembles assassination. Tillman was a known opponent of war policies and of several operations he was forced to be part of. In all probability—based on his unique personality—he was going to blow the whistle on some Army practice or atrocity. IMHO, when you look at Rumsfeld’s letter (‘let’s keep an eye on this one’) and watch the documentary, it is likely Tillman was murdered.

This movie must gain the widest possible distribution. It’s revolutionary.

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