Exposing a major cover-up has always been and still is a favorite subject for documentaries. The successful and widely seen Pax Americana, Gasland and Fuel are just 3 cover-up docs that have recently hit the screen. But The Tillman Story is more moving as the problem here feels more personal as it affects a typical family.
Small town football star Pat Tillman (who looks like actor Craig T. Nelson) and his younger brother Kevin join the military to serve their country. Pat is killed in Afghanistan, shot by his own platoon by accident. But the family is left to believe Pat died fighting the enemy. When the family learns the truth, they want the government and army admit the truth and that they have lied to using the death of their son hailed as a hero to promote the war.
Interviews are mainly with family members and research is thin, apart from old newsreel footage. But director Bar-Lev uses what material he has to full credit. He builds up the tension, anger and frustration of the audience (mirrored by mother Tillman in the movie) till the very last reel. What is interesting too is his subtle blatancy. In one scene, where the narrator (Josh Brolin) reveals the tree of command, of the high ranks that have learnt the truth of the Tillman boy, the picture of Bush is barely seen at the top, but the audience obviously recognizes the President. Quite the few docs these days are fond of using Bush as an easy target for blame – for the main reason being his recent unpopularity and of course the fact that he is in reality, responsible.
By the time the last reel is played, Bar-Lev has successfully built up the anger of his audience at the people responsible for withholding the truth. But what actually comes from all this is the observation of the strength of the Tillman family. Mother fights her hardest that the truth will out, husband is always by her and the family side and the sons are perfect, maybe except for the fondness of swearing. Unfortunately language prevented this film a PG-13 rating that would otherwise allow the film to be watched in schools – so that the story would be more widely known to the American public. If the swearing is removed, one key point in the story (the swear word used by the mother in a letter) will be lost.
But at least their story is told, and one that is unforgettable for the injustice fallen on a genuinely patriotic family.