Filmmaker Amir Bar-Lev follows up the fascinating My Kid Could Paint That with this unsettling, emotionally affecting look behind the curtain of American mythmaking — a film that examines the truth behind NFL player-turned-soldier Pat Tillman’s April 2004 death in Afghanistan from friendly fire, and exposes the high-level Army cover-up (and, yes, grinning, flag-waving media complicity) in knowingly packaging a phony version of this event as a heroic adjunct in a two-for-one narrative about noble wars of necessity.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, those with an abiding interest in the intersection of media, politics and the particular history of American aggression will certainly find the movie gripping on that level, but it’s also affecting in nearly a dozen ways both specific (familial) and broader (rousing one’s independent-minded patriotic ire at such overt governmental manipulation). Interview footage with comrades provides a clear-eyed view of the tragedy itself, while family reminiscences give heartrending color to Tillman’s ghost. Some of the archival material is bracing (Tillman’s younger brother, Richard, strides to the podium to eulogize him with beer in hand, and pointedly tells the assembled pro-military crowd, including John McCain, “He’s not in heaven — he’s fucking dead”), and agonizingly illustrates the often hidden personal toll of what is now a war nearing a decade in length — in this case a family torn asunder once, and then re-traumatized through the betrayal of their government. Powerful and thought-provoking, The Tillman Story is sure to be on the documentary short-list for Academy Award consideration. For more information, click here. (Weinstein Company, R, 94 minutes)