Blu-Ray Review: Spectacular ‘The Tillman Story’ Demands Your Attention

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CHICAGO – When the Oscar nominations were announced last week, one of the most egregious snubs took place in the category of Best Documentary, where Amir Bar-Lev’s spectacular “The Tillman Story” missed out on not just the award it should have WON but even a nomination. This is not just a snub, it’s shameful, although this has long been a category in need of a massive overhaul. See for yourself when “The Tillman Story” hits DVD and Blu-ray tomorrow, Feb. 1, 2011. Blu-Ray Rating: 4.5/5.0
Blu-Ray Rating: 4.5/5.0

“The Tillman Story” may sound like an innocuous enough title but it’s perfect for the film in that it documents both the fiction that emerged from the truth of the death of Pat Tillman and reveals what actually happened both when Pat died and in the days that followed. It is about both “stories” — the one that was sold to the American public and the true one. And it is about more Tillmans than just Pat as his family became a major part of his legacy.

By now, the true story of Pat Tillman is well-known and well-documented. The NFL superstar with the Arizona Cardinals followed the call of his country after 9/11 and chose to give up a multi-million dollar career to serve. It was reported that he was killed in an ambush and valiantly died in the line of fire. The truth was that he died in a valley, cowering under friendly fire as he screamed “I’m Pat F**king Tillman!!!” until a fellow soldier put a bullet in his head.

The Tillman Story will be released on Blu-Ray and DVD on February 1st, 2011
The Tillman Story will be released on Blu-Ray and DVD on February 1st, 2011
Photo credit: Sony Pictures Home Video

It was tragic and senseless death but tragic and senseless things happen in war all the time. It was what happened after that is the stuff of documentaries. Pat Tillman never gave an interview as to why he chose to fight. He had a strong desire for privacy, something he both told people and put in writing. His wishes were ignored by the government machine he fought for and he was turned into a martyr; a face to sell an increasingly-unpopular war. We can argue all day over who knew what when and how high the mistruths went up the ladder but the fact is that someone turned the death of Pat Tillman into a marketing hook.

And his family fought for the truth. Amir Bar-Lev uses a series of riveting interviews with the peopple who served with Pat and his friends and family. He reconstructs both the story of what happened and the truth. If you take anything away from this excellent, non-political piece, it’s that we should have have such intelligent and passionate peopple as the Tillman’s in charge of defending our wishes after we die. All the Tillmans are heroes in my book, not for some political exposition but simply because they refused to let their son, brother, or husband turn into a political tool.

The brilliance of Bar-Lev’s film is that it doesn’t use Tillman politically either. It would have been easy to turn “The Tillman Story” into an anti-war or anti-Bush screed but it’s not. Sure, it heavily implies that powerful figures like Bush and Rumsfeld knew exactly what they were doing but that’s not the focus. Bar-Lev merely pulls apart every element of the story, pointing fingers at the shoddy state of modern journalism as well. This was the best documentary of 2010 (and my #8 film of the year) and don’t miss the opportunity to catch up with it on Blu-ray just because the Academy made yet another mistake.

Special Features:
o Director’s Commentary

“The Tillman Story” was directed by Amir Bar-Lev. The film is rated R and will be released on Blu-ray and DVD on February 1st, 2011. It runs 95 minutes. content director Brian Tallerico

Content Director

Guy Montag's picture

Remember the Iconoclast, Not the Icon

I was disapponted the Oscar judges passed over “The Tillman Story” in favor of “Restrepo”. I saw both films at the threater. As a former Airborne Ranger LRRP, I wanted to like “Restrepo,” but I didn’t find it nearly as compelling as “The Tillman Story.”

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 with a preview), many of the interviews are with members of the Tillman family (mother, father, brother, and wife) who describe their experience of 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 the media’s 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.”

“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.”

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 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,, 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 and the “The [Untold] Tillman Story” at

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