I am fascinated by self-identified "patriotic" Americans. The ones who shout the loudest about how much they the love this country and the inalienable rights granted by the Constitution, yet then take issue when they don't like the way others exercise those beloved rights. They expect unwavering support for their country, which they think can do no wrong. By extension, that usually translates to the military and its members, who they frequently state must be honored and supported. As I watched Amir Bar-Lev's documentary 'The Tillman Story', I couldn't help but wonder where those "patriots" disappear to when the troops aren't being honored and supported by the generals and civilians who command them.
The story of Pat Tillman, Jr. proceeded like this: after the attacks of 9/11, Pat, like many brave young men and women, including his own brother Kevin, volunteered to join the military. Unlike many young men and women, Pat played for the Arizona Cardinals in the NFL from 1998 to 2001 and turned down a contract that would have paid him millions, in order to serve his country. Against Pat's wishes, the military, its supporters, and the media made him the most notable enlistee of the time.
Pat and Kevin became members of the 2nd Ranger Battalion and served in Iraq and Afghanistan. In Iraq, they were part of the rescue mission of Private Jessica Lynch, a soldier whose story Bar-Lev shows and has previously been reported was fabricated by the military to generate good PR. In Afghanistan, Pat was killed in an ambush near the Pakistan border on April 22, 2004. He was posthumously given the Silver Star, the third-highest U.S. military decoration awarded for valor in the face of the enemy, and his memorial was televised nationally as the country mourned a hero and honored his sacrifice and that of his family's. It made a great story. Too bad it also turned out to be untrue.
Weeks later, the family and the country found out there had been no ambush. Members of his own platoon killed Pat. This contradicted numerous parts of the story the Army first told and created a number of questions that weren't answered sufficiently. Led by Pat's mother Dannie, the family searched for answers and found evidence of cover-ups and possible crimes, but no satisfactory explanation of what happened.
Bar-Lev came along in 2007 as the family's last hope, Congress, was looking into the matter. He earned their trust to tell the story and they sat down for interviews, except for Kevin, who appears elsewhere through archival footage. Not told in a completely linear fashion, Bar-Lev provides a brief biography for Pat, giving a sense of the man without offering a complete understanding. He also investigates what happened that fateful day and traces the cover-ups through what Dannie's investigation uncovered and speaking with soldiers, some who knew what happened at the time and were ordered to keep quiet, and another who took the fall for others and was cast aside.
'The Tillman Story' is a fascinating story of a family victimized by the U.S. military and government. They sacrificed their son for this country and those in charge didn’t honor him or them by their actions. And it isn't just their story as Corporal Pat Tillman, Jr. wasn't the first and likely won't be the last whose life and death will be taken advantage of by the military.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Sony Pictures presents 'The Tillman Story' on a 25GB Region A Blu-ray disc housed in a blue Eco-Lite Vortex keepcase. After an advertisement for the Blu-ray format, trailers for 'Nowhere Boy', 'Game of Death', 'Sniper: Reloaded', and 'The Hit List' are shown.
Although given a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encoded transfer, Bar-Lev used a variety of different video sources that include 16mm film, TV broadcasts, and consumer home video, so grading it seems rather pointless.
The one-on-one interviews for the film and scenes shot with high-grade equipment come across well. Colors are sharp and fleshtones run consistent. Objects during these sequences are sharp and offer depth, except some of the close-ups on the governmental paperwork, which can be a bit of a jumbled mess at times. The shadow delineation is poor in the interviews because they were shot with a single key light.
On the other end of the spectrum, there's VHS footage of Pat playing high school football as late as 1994, copies of cable news broadcasts and enhanced night-vision footage from the Iraq war, and unstable streaming Internet media. High definition offers little to no improvement.
The audio is in the same boat as the video in regards to being culled from various sources. Although presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, it's a front-heavy track with very infrequent surround. The responses from the interview subjects are all clear and understandable from the fronts. The dynamic range is limited because most of the audio is a person speaking at normal, conversational levels.
The rears are most noticeable during the memorials at stadiums with the ambiance of the large crowds. The planes and helicopters that do flyovers at those events can be heard moving through the soundspace. The LFE offers a small burst of bass when an explosion is simulated, but otherwise has little work to do besides supporting Neil Young's "Hawks & Doves".
Unfortunately, the complete truth of what happened to Pat Tillman, Jr. will likely never be known unless the participants in his death and the resulting cover-ups confess, which makes the documentary slightly unsatisfying because there are so many questions left unanswered. While the Blu-ray format offers little to improve the experience of viewing the film, it is well worth seeing as a reminder of the lengths our leaders will go to bamboozle the public. Hopefully, 'The Tillman Story' will be a catalyst to motivate the public to demand change.