Shortly after 9/11, Arizona Cardinal Pat Tillman turned down a multimillion dollar contract and enlisted in the Army Rangers. Two years later, he was killed in action. People got curious. Rumors spread, controversy was uncovered, politicians were made to look bad, and then the story went away.
Tillman’s mother Dannie, wasn’t pleased to learn that officials had initially covered up the fact that Tillman and members of his platoon were gunned down by friendly fire. She also knew that the story didn’t end there, so she began digging.
Revealing all she uncovered is to reveal everything that the film uncovers, which is no fun to read in a review. Let’s just say that, if Dannie was 100 percent correct, Tillman’s death was covered up by everyone who knew about it, which goes high up the political food chain.
But the details surrounding the cover up aren’t nearly as riveting as the Tillman family’s inability to cope with not necessarily what happened, but how it was told to them.
None of this is conveyed better than in the speech Tillman’s younger brother, Richard, gives at Pat’s memorial service.
Jumping up on stage in a white tee shirt tucked into blue jeans, Richard looks around, takes a swig of his tall Guinness, and speaks.
“Wow, there are a lot of people here, thanks for coming,” he says almost sarcastically. “Pat's a fucking champion and always will be. And, he’d want me to say this, but he's not with God. He's fucking dead. He's not religious. Thanks for your thoughts, but he's fucking dead."
The comment is startling in its delivery, which is calm and precise, and echoes in your mind long after you exit the theatre. It’s raw and real.
Like the best documentaries made recently, The Tillman Story doesn’t offer a full resolution to its subject. Dolphins are still being slaughtered in a hidden cove in Taiji. Father Oliver O’Grady is still alive and well and living free in Ireland, even after admittedly molesting hundreds of children. We’ll never know if Jesse Friedman actually raped boys with his father. We’ll probably never hear President Bush admit that he knew Pat Tillman was killed by friendly fire, only to lie about it later.
Although The Tillman Story isn’t nearly as good as those other films, it carefully and believably presents an issue that may very well never find a satisfying resolution. A good documentary doesn’t have to give you all the answers; it just has to make you care. B