Pat Tillman Movie in Bay Area Sept. 3, 2010
Pat Tillman movie likely to revive debate over football player's death
Julia Prodis Sulek
Posted: 08/21/2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Pat Tillman and brother Kevin, after they enlisted in the U.S. Army in 2002. Courtesy the...«123»Six years after San Jose native and football star Pat Tillman was shot to death on an Afghanistan hillside, a new, high-profile documentary is likely to bring the controversy over how he died and the military's bungled attempt at a cover-up back to the forefront of public debate.
"The Tillman Story" -- directed by Oscar-nominated filmmaker Amir Bar-Lev and narrated by actor Josh Brolin -- opened in New York and Los Angeles to rave reviews Friday.
While the documentary sheds little new light on the military cover-up of Tillman's "friendly fire" death at the hands of fellow soldiers in April 2004 and doesn't provide satisfactory answers to persistent questions, the film makes one thing perfectly clear: Military officials who used Tillman's death as a propaganda tool "lied to the wrong family."
The documentary -- which opens Sept. 3 in the Bay Area -- also provides a glimpse into the guilt and anguish of two soldiers who were with Tillman the day he died, who knew it was American soldiers who fired the shots that killed him, not enemy soldiers as the military first had led the family -- and the nation -- to believe. One soldier had been huddled next to him when gunfire sprayed across Tillman's head, and the other kept the truth to himself as he accompanied Tillman's body -- and brother -- home to San Jose.
In its review, the Los Angeles Times said that "thanks to Bar-Lev's skill and the remarkable personalities of the Tillman clan, 'The
Tillman Story' is utterly entertaining, even as it infuriates." Slate called it "a thoughtful and nuanced story about a mother and son's mutual devotion, a fresh take on relationships that spring from wartime tragedy, and an important lesson for today's military families." And The New York Times, in its review, described the film as a "sorrowful, devastating documentary" about "the cynical chain of command that lied to (the Tillman family) and used their son as a propaganda tool."
Director Bar-Lev -- who coproduced the Oscar-nominated documentary "Trouble the Water," about Hurricane Katrina -- said he was not only interested in how Tillman died, but also in the myth surrounding the man himself. When Tillman gave up a multimillion-dollar NFL contract after 9/11 to join the Army Rangers with his brother, Kevin, he instantly became the most famous enlisted man.
"What I hope for the film is that Pat becomes more heroic when people understand who he was," Bar-Lev said in an interview at the Four Seasons Hotel in San Francisco.
The movie is rich in film clips and family photos of Tillman's youth growing up in the tiny San Jose enclave of New Almaden, playing football for Leland High and for the Arizona Cardinals, getting married to his high school sweetheart and heading off to war with Kevin. It shows him as an intellectual, an avid reader of philosophy, a mentor who took a scrawny young recruit under his wing. That very recruit, Bryan O'Neal, was beside him when Tillman was shot, when he shouted to his fellow soldiers firing from the canyon below, "I'm Pat f----ing Tillman."
In the movie, O'Neal said he still struggles with guilt.
"I blamed myself for quite some time that maybe Pat wasn't in a place he should be because I didn't put forth more effort," O'Neal said. "Because of my lack of faith, he may be suffering for it."
Russell Baer, another Army Ranger and close friend of the Tillman brothers, said he was ordered to keep quiet about what really happened on the hillside. He kept the truth to himself on the entire flight accompanying the body with Kevin Tillman, and in meeting with the family, who asked what had happened.
"I didn't say two words to Kevin the whole time we were flying home. I was afraid he might ask me what happened to Pat," Baer said. To the family, "I gave them my narrative excluding certain possibilities."
Afterward, he refused orders to rejoin his platoon and named his first son after Tillman.
As much as Bar-Lev admired the Tillman family's resolve to find the truth, they also presented challenges.
Just as Tillman never spoke publicly about why he joined the Army, his family declined to discuss it as well, saying only that his reasons were complex. Media outlets have been left with repeats of an interview he gave, along with the rest of the Cardinals players, about his feelings of patriotism the day after the Sept. 11 attacks.
That left a soldier, interviewed in the documentary, to fill in the blank, saying there was a "low mumble" among soldiers in their unit "that he was looking to be a political leader."
The family also refused to share Tillman's handwritten journal entries with Bar-Lev, even though they had given them to best-selling novelist Jon Krakauer for his book "Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman." Bar-Lev said Tillman's widow, Marie, told him she didn't want her husband's journal "in the hands of a moviemaker" who would likely hire an actor to do a voice-over of Tillman's written words.
Still, what Bar-Lev came to appreciate about the family, he said, is that the information they resisted giving him, the questions they refused to answer, were their way of "holding onto Pat."
As Marie Tillman said in the documentary about the media storm after her husband's death: "I had a sense of holding on to what I could. Pat, who he was as a person, was lost."
Tillman's mother, Mary Tillman, didn't return a phone call to talk about the movie. In a clip from the documentary taken from the congressional hearings into the fratricide investigation, she considered the cover-up reprehensible.
"To write these glorious tales is a disservice to Pat," Mary Tillman says in the movie. "It might not be pretty, it might not be out of a John Wayne movie," she said, but he deserved the truth.
'The Tillman Story'
Opens: Sept. 3 in the Bay Area
Narrator: Josh Brolin
Director: Amir Bar-Lev
Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes
Watch Mary Tillman Interview
Pat Tillman's Mom and Michael Moore speak out about Stanley McChrystal's appointment at Yale
Mother of Pat Tillman, Michael Moore, speak out about Gen. McChrystal's appointment to teach at Yale
Friday, August 20th 2010, 4:00 AM
Quraishi/PoolGeneral Stanley McChrystal was recently fired from his post for indiscreet comments made to a Rolling Stone reporter. Yale University announced that it appointed him a Senior Fellow.
Lee/EverettPat Tillman (l.) and his brother Kevin. Related NewsThe mother of Pat Tillman and filmmaker Michael Moore have something to say about Yale University’s hiring of Gen. Stanley McChrystal.
Mary Tillman, whose discovery that McChrystal orchestrated the cover-up of her son’s death by friendly fire in Afghanistan, is depicted in Amir Bar-Lev���s documentary "The Tillman Story" tells us the Ivy League institution’s hiring of the general that President Obama fired is "insulting." And Moore wonders if university administrators would re-think their offer after seeing some of the jaw-dropping information in the film.
This week, Yale announced that McChrystal had been appointed a Senior Fellow at Yale’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs and will be teaching a graduate course on the complexity of leadership at the university this fall. The general retired this year after the president relieved him of command after he made disparaging remarks to interviewer Michael Hastings in Rolling Stone magazine.
But even before he was fired, McChrystal had become the subject of controversy thanks, in large part, to Mary Tillman���s dogged investigation into the military’s cover-up of the death of her son, which is covered in "The Tillman Story," which opens today.
When asked Tillman if she had any comment on McChrystal’s hiring, she released the following statement: "McChrystal showed poor judgment and he exercised little restraint during his interview with Michael Hastings. His involvement in the tortures at Camp Nama and in the cover-up of Pat’s death has never been satisfactorily scrutinized. The House Armed Services Committee failed to vet him properly in the spring of 2009. The fact that Yale wants to employ him to instruct courses on leadership is extremely insulting and unsettling."
Meanwhile, Moore says the film is "one scene after another where you’re sitting there with your jaw opening, wondering, ‘How come I don’t know this.’" And the filmmaker adds, "You see that McChrystal and his office were coordinating the big lie that was put out about how Pat Till man was killed, when, in fact, they knew the truth." The military initially sold a story about Tillman’s heroic death fighting Afghan forces when, in reality, he’d been killed by friendlies.
Moore says administrators should watch the documentary and take a look at the documents, many "redacted" that the Tillman family dug up on Pat’s death. The filmmaker adds that if the university’s administrators have "any integrity and they care about their institution," then "maybe they’d reconsider" whether they wanted McChrystal "lecturing at their institution of higher learning."
Yale University Press Secretary Thomas Conroy responds: "Part of the strength of a great university is bringing a wide range of knowledgeable views before its students. McChrystal, he adds, "seems well-positioned to speak to the issues that form the topic of the seminar he will be teaching."
Conroy adds that The Jackson Institute "is recruiting several policy practitioners with the goal of contributing to a better understanding by students of global affairs. The institute believes general McChrystal complements a team of teachers who will do that."
With Carson Griffith firstname.lastname@example.org
Where Men Win Glory Odyssey (Pat Tillman)
The bestselling author of Into the Wild, Into Thin Air, and Under the Banner of Heaven delivers a stunning, eloquent account of a remarkable young man’s haunting journey.
Like the men whose epic stories Jon Krakauer has told in his previous bestsellers, Pat Tillman was an irrepressible individualist and iconoclast. In May 2002, Tillman walked away from his $3.6 million NFL contract to enlist in the United States Army. He was deeply troubled by 9/11, and he felt a strong moral obligation to join the fight against al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Two years later, he died on a desolate hillside in southeastern Afghanistan.
Though obvious to most of the two dozen soldiers on the scene that a ranger in Tillman’s own platoon had fired the fatal shots, the Army aggressively maneuvered to keep this information from Tillman’s wife, other family members, and the American public for five weeks following his death. During this time, President Bush repeatedly invoked Tillman’s name to promote his administration’s foreign policy. Long after Tillman’s nationally televised memorial service, the Army grudgingly notified his closest relatives that he had “probably” been killed by friendly fire while it continued to dissemble about the details of his death and who was responsible.
In Where Men Win Glory, Jon Krakauer draws on Tillman’s journals and letters, interviews with his wife and friends, conversations with the soldiers who served alongside him, and extensive research on the ground in Afghanistan to render an intricate mosaic of this driven, complex, and uncommonly compelling figure as well as the definitive account of the events and actions that led to his death. Before he enlisted in the army, Tillman was familiar to sports aficionados as an undersized, overachieving Arizona Cardinals safety whose virtuosity in the defensive backfield was spellbinding. With his shoulder-length hair, outspoken views, and boundless intellectual curiosity, Tillman was considered a maverick. America was fascinated when he traded the bright lights and riches of the NFL for boot camp and a buzz cut. Sent first to Iraq—a war he would openly declare was “illegal as hell” —and eventually to Afghanistan, Tillman was driven by complicated, emotionally charged, sometimes contradictory notions of duty, honor, justice, patriotism, and masculine pride, and he was determined to serve his entire three-year commitment. But on April 22, 2004, his life would end in a barrage of bullets fired by his fellow soldiers.
Krakauer chronicles Tillman’s riveting, tragic odyssey in engrossing detail highlighting his remarkable character and personality while closely examining the murky, heartbreaking circumstances of his death. Infused with the power and authenticity readers have come to expect from Krakauer’s storytelling, Where Men Win Glory exposes shattering truths about men and war.
Amazon Exclusive: Jon Krakauer in Afghanistan
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. There may be no better example of the tragic aftermath of 9/11 than the story of pro-football-player-turned-Army Ranger Pat Tillman, whose death in the wilds of Afghanistan in 2004 created a scandal of government cover-up. In this masterful work, bestselling adventure writer Jon Krakauer (Into the Wild) renders an intimate portrait of Tillman and brilliantly captures the sadness, madness and heroism of the post-9/11 world. After the attacks, Tillman, a rising football star, eschewed a $3.6 million NFL deal with the Arizona Cardinals to join the military with his brother. From the outset, Pat was elevated by politicians and pundits as a symbol of America’s resolve, a role he detested and shunned, believing his football career afforded him no special status. After a grueling three-year training with the elite Army Rangers, however, instead of fighting terrorists, he found himself first deployed to Iraq--a war he called "an imperial whim." Tillman was later redeployed to Afghanistan, where he was killed in an almost unfathomable incident of friendly fire, which the Army obfuscated for weeks while the government hailed Tillman as a hero. Drawing on interviews with family, fellow soldiers and correspondence, Krakauer’s page-turning account captures every detail--Tillman’s extraordinary character, including the “tragic virtues” that led him to give up a comfortable life and athletic stardom for the army; the harshness of military training and life; the rugged terrain of remote Afghanistan--and, of course, the ravages of war. Most critically, Krakauer, by telling Tillman's personal story and blowing apart the "cynical cover-up" that followed his killing, Krakauer lays bare the best--and worst--of America's War on Terror.