Everyone knows about the life and death of Pat Tillman: the square-jawed all-star football player who walked away from a career with the Arizona Cardinals to join the U.S. Army Rangers. While serving a second tour of duty in Afghanistan in April 2004, he was killed fighting the Taliban; a less spin-ready story involving friendly fire eventually emerged. So the problem that documentarian Amir Bar-Lev (My Kid Could Paint That) faces is how to tell this tale without simply recycling angles already done to death by CNN reports and angry op-ed pieces.
That Bar-Lev gives equal time to Tillman’s family and their outrage offers a compelling parallel narrative to the soldier’s own; it’s the reclamation of this hero from the jaws of government PR-martyrdom that seals the deal. The film treats the so-called supersoldier like nothing more than a man—one who drank beer, took dangerous risks, felt disillusioned by the military and yet honored his commitment. Such a simple but revolutionary idea still can’t quite overcome Bar-Lev’s shaky grasp of filmmaking (his doubling back on chronology in the name of tension often causes only confusion). Yet by focusing on the human being, The Tillman Story balances cynical and inspirational aspects in equal measure. Pat’s demise—and the media debacle around it—seems that much more tragic and enraging.—David Fear
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