The Tillman Story

Compelling documentary that sets the story straight about Pat Tillman, the NFL football star who gave up a lucrative career in order to join the Army (with his brother) and fight in the so-called War on Terror. After Tillman was killed in Afghanistan, the Department of Defense concocted a self-serving story about his "heroic" end, which fell apart months later once it was revealed that Tillman was accidentally shot to death by his own buddies.

Bar-Lev, who directed the fascinating doc My Kid Could Paint That, once again explores a family caught somewhere in between fact and fiction, as Tillman's mother embarks on a quest to expose the military's cover-up. Her quest takes her right to the top of the chain of command, and Bar-Lev documents every step of her journey.

The Tillman Story also debunks the various myths surrounding the surprisingly complicated Tillman, who at first came across as a lunk-headed jock whose rah-rah patriotism got the better of him, but in fact was an atheist who read Noam Chomsky, dismissed the Iraq War as illegal, and kept his reasons for fighting so private that even Bar-Lev, out of deference to Tillman's family, doesn't dig into it. (It's a misstep for the film, since the question "Why did Tillman join?" is never fully answered, though it's implied that he had an overwhelming sense of duty and commitment to everything he set his sights on.)

I was also surprised to learn that Tillman was a San Jose boy, like me, and that his politicized memorial service – John McCain was in attendance – was held at San Jose's modest Rose Garden, just a few blocks from my mom's house. It just goes to show you how much the media fails to tell you: I had pictured the man as some Texas roughneck from a conservative family, not a Silicon Valley dude from a liberal clan.

All in all, The Tillman Story is excellent filmmaking. Angering and depressing? Yes. But also great documentary storytelling.