Going to the theater today to see The Town, I had no idea this documentary even existed. Just from the title you know what it will be about – Pat Tillman’s death in Afghanistan and the aftermath of the U.S. Army trying to make him into a hero and covering up that he was killed by friendly fire, that deceptive euphemism.
I don’t think it is possible to watch this movie without prejudice or to leave your political biases at the door. I’ll be honest about mine. I was in favor of the invasion of Afghanistan, and against the invasion of Iraq from the first day. While I understand what the Army was trying to do by painting Tillman as the ultimate patriotic hero, they did him a grave personal disservice by trying to exploit his death. And yes, this movie confirms my views.
There are a lot of interviews with Tillman’s two brothers, wife and parents, so you get the feeling you’re getting a good idea of how he felt about things. One thing that was made abundantly clear by Tillman was that he did NOT want a military funeral; he emphasized that in Army paperwork and also told the same thing to his wife. This movie also shows how the Army tried to pressure his wife into doing just that the day after he died.
Some more interesting moments are when his younger brother speaks at his funeral, and says Pat was not religious and wouldn’t want anybody to think he was with God; that Pat was just dead. Again, I’m biased toward that kind of statement but it is a striking moment in the film because of the raw emotion felt by the brother.
What is most impressive from the movie is Pat’s mother’s efforts to get some sort of answer from the people who created the false story of his death, in order to support the war. As is usual with politicians, you see a panel convening a hearing, and a lot of people being questioned who have suspicious memory lapses. Seriously, they were tougher when they questioned Roger Clemens about his steroid usage.
What I left this movie with more than anything else, is that in no way did Pat Tillman want any of this. The attention, the glory, the being singled out. Pat was an odd bird, intense and funny and with a definite vision. None of what happened after his death was within that vision.
Yes, this movie has an agenda; most documentaries do. If you are sympathetic to the agenda you will probably come out of it thinking like I am. If you aren’t, I’m not sure how you will feel, but I’d like to know.