The Tillman Story (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

January 22, 2011 by  

A shocking, fascinating and blood-boiling documentary from director Amir Bar-Lev of how the US military used former NFL player and Army Ranger Pat Tillman’s death as  propaganda.  An amazing story of one family’s crusade to expose the negligence and deceit of the US government and military of covering up their Pat Tillman’s death but also a documentary to show us who the real Pat Tillman was and what he stood for.  An eye-opener that must be seen!  Highly recommended!

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TITLE: The Tillman Story


DURATION: 95 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (1:78:1), English, 5.1 DTS-HD MA, Subtitles: English SDH and English

COMPANY: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

RATED: R (For Language)

RELEASE DATE: February 1, 2011

Directed by Amir Bar-Lev

Screenwriter: Mark Monroe

Produced by John Battsek

Executive Producers: Robert DeBitetto, Robert Sharenow, Molly Thompson

Line Producer: Alice Henty

Co-Producer: Caitrin Rodgers

Associate Producer: Sofia Santana

Music by Philip Sheppard

Cinematography: Sean Kirby, Igor Martinovic

Edited by Joshua Altman, Gabriel Rhodes


Pat Tillman

Mary Tillman

Kevin Tillman

Marie Tillman

Richard Tillman

Stan Goff

Russell Baer

Bryan O’Neal

Narrated by Josh Brolin

Pat Tillman gave up his professional football career to join the Army Rangers in 2002—and became an instant symbol of patriotic fervor and unflinching duty. But the truth about Pat Tillman is far more complex, and ultimately more heroic, than the caricature created by the media. And when the government tried to turn his death into war propaganda, they took on the wrong family. From her home in the Santa Cruz mountains, Pat’s mother, Dannie Tillman, led the family’s crusade to reveal the truth beneath the mythology of their son’s life and death. Featuring candid and revelatory interviews with Pat’s fellow soldiers as well as his family, Amir Bar-Lev’s emotional and insightful film not only shines a light on the shady aftermath of Pat’s death and calls to task the entire chain of command but also examines themes as timeless as the notion of heroism itself.

Pat Tillman, a professional NFL football player who played for the Arizona Cardinals, a football player who was dominating in high school and also at Arizona State University.  A loving son who cared about his family, a husband who cared about his wife Marie but most of all, he was a man who was inspired by his extensive family line who were members of the military and fought for their country.

But the day after 9/11, Pat and his brother Kevin and Pat all decided that they wanted to do something for their country and all three enlisted for the military.  Pat Tillman would give up on his professional NFL career, forgo the millions of dollars he was making as an athlete to become part of the US Army Rangers.

America was captivated by Pat Tillman quitting the NFL to become a Ranger but on April 22, 2004, the Tillman family received the worst news possible.  Their son was killed during an ambush while trying to protect soldiers who were being attacked by the Taliban and Tillman risked his life to save many of his fellow soldiers.

Pat Tillman received a huge, televised memorial and family, friends and may came to show their support and honor for Pat Tillman.  But the Tillman’s knew something was wrong when his Pat’s good friend, Russel Baer would not give details of what happened to Pat.  The US military gave him special instructions of what he had to do when he went back home with his brother Kevin (who was also in the area when Pat died) along with Pat’s body when they returned back to Arizona.

For most American families who have lost a love one in Iraq or Afghanistan or any other country, the reason of what the US military tells you, no one expects the military to lie about it.  And most families take their word and move on…

But the Tillman family was not that kind of family.  They wanted to know details.

A special investigation was conducted and five weeks after the initial announce of Pat Tillman’s death, Brigadier General Gary M. Jones and the U.S. Department of Defense concluded that Pat Tillman (and soldiers of the Afghan militia) were killed due to friendly fire aggravated by the intensity of the firefight.  The military supplied the family with binders of 3000-pages of information from the investigation, expecting the family to not dig into the information.

But not the Tillman family.  The family sought help from former Ranger Stan Goff who owned a blog site called and together, they pieced together the many blackened areas of each page (trying to link names of soldiers and higher-ups) and sure enough, what they read in the binder was shocking.

Was Pat Tillman killed by soldiers who didn’t follow the rules, were gun happy and just wanted to engage in combat?  Why was his clothes burned, his protective vest destroyed?

So, many questions that people who were following the story of Pat Tillman and were confused because the government kept changing its tune of how he Pat Tillman died.  Was this another person that was used for propaganda like Jessica Lynch?  The soldier who was rescued in Iraq and news reported that she was a female Rambo that tried to save her own soldiers but Lynch came out to say all the stories were untrue.  Her weapon jammed, she was shot and she was captured.  But instead, the US military used her story as propaganda.

The interesting thing was that Pat Tillman was there and was about to rescue her but instead of having the soldiers go and save her, instead the US military delayed it until they could get a camera crew to film the whole ordeal?

Needless to say, Pat Tillman was getting frustrated of what he was seeing overseas.  Things that the military were doing wrong.

Amir Bar-Lev’s documentary “The Tillman Story” retraces Pat Tillman from the beginning.  As a child, as a man who didn’t believe in God but still respected others who believed in religion, how he was a modest man and never liked taking credit and would rather give credit to his coaches or his team, a man who he and his brothers at a young age loved cussing up a storm.  But still, this was a man who loved his family, his wife and wanted to serve in the military.

Bar-Lev shows us how the Tillman Story started to unravel.  Interviews with family members but also members of those who were with Pat Tillman when they were attacked and those who were on the other side.

The documentary answers questions by retracing of what happened to that day and thankfully by the confessions by Russel Baer and Spc. Bryan O’Neal, we had a chance to understand how Pat Tillman died and the degree of negligence and deceit that came from the US military.

We learn about soldiers close to Pat who were ordered not to reveal anything about his death.  We learn that even Tillman himself suspected that if he died, the US government would use him as propaganda, even smuggling out to his wife, clear instructions of how he was to be buried and not be buried at the Arlington.  Especially when it came to details of why he enlisted, he wanted it private yet the reason why he enlisted was broadcast on the big screens during a football game to honor Pat Tillman.

The documentary takes us to where the Tillman family had a chance to face congress and to see if the generals would acknowledge that they knew the truth about Tillman’s death prior to his memorial (a P4 memo was leaked to the Associated Press showing that the military brass and possibly up to the president may have known the truth that Tillman died of friendly fire and yet still gave a different story to America and for his televised memorial).

Amir Bar-Lev’s shocking, infuriating documentary on the US military’s cover-up of Pat Tillman’s death is no holds barred and goes deeper to expose the arrogance, negligence and deceit that the US government and US military did to hide the truth behind Pat Tillman’s death.


“The Tillman Story” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:78:1).  The documentary is presented in High Definition and while the more recent footage looks great, it’s important for people to know that we get classic video footage of Tillman growing up through the years, older photography, so you’re going to get that mixed quality of picture quality as would be expected from a documentary.  But overall, the picture quality is very good for this Blu-ray release.


“The Tillman Story” is presented in English 5.1 DTS-HD MA.  While there is a lossless soundtrack, this is not a action or adventure film.  This is a documentary.  Spoken dialogue is crystal clear and again, because it uses sources from the past chronicling Tillman’s life, you’re going to get mix sources of audio quality.  But for the most part, the audio is understandable and very clear.

Subtitles are presented in English and English SDH.


“The Tillman Story” comes with a director’s commentary by Amir Bar-Lev who talks about various scenes, what his goal was to achieve with the footage, commenting on the various comments by the family and the things he learned during the course of working on the documentary.

Prior to watching “The Tillman Story”, like many people who watched the news,  I was confused by everything that happened.  Various interpretations of his death, family upset of a cover-up and coming from the heels of Jessica Lynch exposing the truth about her capture and rescue, I figured that the US military (as with other military in the world and every war that has happened in American history) had to spin the stories of Lynch and Tillman’s death as a morale booster for those who were growing weary about the war in the Middle East.

The fact as shown in many public pools, there are many American soldiers who have died in Afghanistan and Iraq and public opinion towards America’s occupation of the Middle East has waned.  It has been hot topic in the news and politics and media-wise, it has a been a battle between the US government and the American media of public support.  The government, especially the US military needed to show the importance of the occupation while showing us back home, of the heroes of the war.  And unfortunately, many names have been shown but are quickly replaced every week as more and more names of soldier’s deaths are announced in the news.

But for Pat Tillman, because of he was a former NFL football player and the news surrounding him quitting the NFL and his lucrative career became media fodder.

In the case of Jessica Lynch, the story that was given to us by the US military was quite heroic and something you would expect from a movie because they painted her as a female Rambo trying to fight her enemies with every last breath that she had before she was captured.  And sure enough, the true story when it came out (courtesy of Jessica Lynch) was less than glamorous and we learned how US propaganda reared its ugly head in deceiving the American public.

But part of the problem lies in the fact that when people are called heroes and given a heroes welcome, they don’t fight it.  They accept the the medals, the fame, the prestige of becoming an America hero.  No one would fight that.  But not these days.  People don’t want to live a lie and in the case of Jessica Lynch, she didn’t want to be painted as something she was not.

And for the Tillman family, during the memorial of his Pat Tillman, when his younger brother Richard Tillman came onstage and in front of military brass and well-known politicians, Richard said in the televised funeral, “I didn’t write (EXPLETIVE DELETED) because I’m not a writer. And I just want to say it was — there’s a lot of people here. Thanks. It was really amazing to be his little baby brother. Yeah, I’m not just gonna sit up here and break down on you, but thank you for coming. Pat was (EXPLETIVE DELETED) champion and always will be.  Just make no mistake, he would want me to say this. He is not with God, he is (EXPLETIVE DELETED). He is not religious. So thanks for your thoughts, but he’s (EXPLETIVE DELETED) dead.”

Of course, the public were shocked by Richard’s comments about his brother at the memorial but the truth, no one knew how Pat Tillman was as a man.  What kind of family bond he and his brothers had.  And as Pat would lay the F-bomb various times through his speech at the memorial, Pat Tillman wouldn’t be surprised because he also cussed a lot since he and his brothers were young children.

And this is the portrait that we get from “The Tillman Story”.  We get to hear from family of how Pat Tillman was.  He may have cussed up a storm but the fact was, he was cool brother, he was cool son, great husband, awesome football player and the man had an amazing heart.  And that this man, is dead.  Why is he dead?

As viewers, “The Tillman Story” helps us learn what the Tillman’s learned overtime.  What the military told them, the true story, the deceit and why the family are still pursuing the truth today.

Pat Tillman, he was modest as a star high school football player and even as a professional NFL football player, his character was not about a man who wanted attention.  And as most families would accept the news of the death of a family member serving overseas, the Tillman family were not the family who would sit back and take everything that was given to them.  They wanted details of how he actually died, wanted to see reports that they were promised and sure enough, what they learned was that he died from friendly fire.  He was killed by his fellow Rangers.  Those who were with Pat during the friendly fire, were told to keep quiet or there would be ramifications.

Part of the problem and this is unfortunate thing for the Tillman family is that no one knows how their son was really killed.  Tillman and others tried to tell their fellow Rangers tried to communicate but unfortunately even within 40 years, for some unknown reason, their fellow Rangers shot at them.

After “The Tillman Story” was released, The Tillmans, Russell Baer and Staff Sgt. Bryan O’Neil were interviewed by Larry King and Baer’s comment is probably the best answer that I have heard.  Baer told King, “I really do believe that there is a serious lack of control. A lot of the guys that were shooting at us were young Rangers and it was their first –“.

Baer continued, “Not just scared, but lack of control, meaning there were people above them on the ground that were in charge of controlling their fires. And I think there was a grave lack of control.”

What we don’t see in the documentary are the people responsible for shooting at Tillman and the other soldiers.  In the director’s commentary, Amir Bar-Lev said he didn’t want to use their names, as they can easily be found on the Internet.

After watching “The Tillman Story”, I thought about the film and its context.  Who is to blame?  Did the US military do the right thing by hiding the truth?  Will the Tillman family ever get the answers that they want? Was it friendly fire?  Was the soldiers trying to kill Pat Tillman in purpose?   Why were those who were with Pat on the day he died, warned about them speaking to the public.  Why were people demoted?

I’m sure there are a lot of conspiracy theories, I’m sure this furthers the divide of people when it comes to US war propaganda and leaves a taste of disgust in their mouth.  I have had the chance to read dozens of comments, good and bad, in regards to how people have viewed the Tillman debacle.  Those who support the military and feel that propaganda to make heroes for the sake of boosting morale has been around for a long time and is needed.  Others who feel that families deserve the truth of how their loved one have died and not use the deceased in that way.

Personally, I can read and read and both side have valid opinions.  But the fact is, we not the Tillman’s.  We didn’t have to live this debacle that they had to live with and be lied to.

“The Tillman Story” is a magnificent documentary.  I found it to be truly shocking, eye-opening and the amount of footage was well-edited and the overall structure was well-done.  Josh Brolin did a magnificent job as a narrator.  Director Bar-Lev achieves success in crafting a film, building it, examining the facts and then one by one, we are unloaded by the facts that the family had learned and we are literally sympathetic to the family because of the lies they have been fed.  They want to know the truth, but unfortunately… with all the facts buried, destroyed and the US military has moved on, unfortunately the Tillman family will be left with this feeling of uncertainty.

Blu-ray or DVD, I do feel that “The Tillman Story” is one documentary everyone familiar and interested in the Pat Tillman story should watch.

In the end, people may have not truly grasped the true nature of who Pat Tillman was through all this media coverage.  But “The Tillman Story” respectfully gives the Tillman family and those who knew him the final word to show us what kind of man he truly was.

“The Tillman Story” is highly recommended!

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