Santa Cruz Good Times

Tuesday
Apr 15th
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Amorality Play

film_Pat_TillmanFamily courage trumps political cover-up in excellent 'Tillman Story'
Imagine that you are a Gold Star mother. Because your son was a famous athlete before he enlisted, his death prompts a media frenzy during which you and your shell-shocked family are required to act out your private anguish on the public stage while an A-List roster of high-ranking military leaders, politicians, and pundits embroider the tale of your son's heroics in battle. But only weeks later, details begin to emerge that expose the official Army report as an obscene pack of lies. And even as you delve deeper into the unsavory truth, the military labors to spin the death of your beloved child into a “recruitment poster."

This is what happened to Mary "Dannie" Tillman, the intrepid San Jose woman whose son, Pat Tillman, gave up a lucrative NFL contract to go fight—and die—in the Middle East. Mary Tillman and her struggle to uncover the truth is the center of the excellent documentary, The Tillman Story, by filmmaker Amir Bar-Lev. It may be a story you think you know, even a movie you think you'll dread; but you'll be surprised. Bar-Lev deftly employs suspense and humor, as well as rage, in his portrait of one raucous, loving family's persistence and courage in refusing to be bought off by a “comforting lie" while struggling to understand exactly how and why their son was killed in service to Uncle Sam.

Pat Tillman's death in Afghanistan in April of 2004 is front-page news. The story is promulgated in every media outlet from local news stations to Pentagon press conferences to the eulogies at the funeral broadcast live from San Jose. A fearsome defensive safety with the Arizona Cardinals, Tillman is lauded for "taking the fight to the enemy," leading a platoon up a hill during a Taliban ambush, a valiant poster boy for American honor and patriotism. There's only one small problem, Mary Tillman tells us. "What they said happened didn't happen. They made up a story."

Five weeks later, information leaks out that Tillman was killed by "friendly fire." The Army back-pedals strenuously, insisting this "tragic accident" in no way diminishes the luster of Pat's heroism (a grim example of what observer Stan Goff calls "the perception-management aspect" of war), but the Tillman family stoically refuses to accept anything less than the truth. When it finally dribbles out (mostly in the testimony of surviving solders who were there), it's a horrifying and outrageous indictment not only of "gross negligence" in the military, and the venality of the conspiracy to cover it up, but the entire climate of warfare as a proving ground for masculinity and mettle spun in military PR since time began.

What remains abundantly true is the character of Pat Tillman himself—the man, not the icon. Adored leader of two younger brothers, he was a physical daredevil who loved games, but shunned the spotlight. On a football scholarship to Arizona State Universiry, he was a long-haired California hippie in Arizona who read Emerson and Noam Chomsky, didn't own a car or a cell phone, and biked to work at the stadium.

Moved to join the Army Rangers after 9-11, he was first deployed to Iraq, where he particpated in the "rescue" of Jessica Lynch. (The operation was delayed until the camera crew could get there), and came to believe "This war is fucking illegal." Still, he determined to honor his commitment, coming home to marry his childhood sweetheart, Marie, before being shipped off to his second, fateful tour in film_tillman_story_ver2Afghanistan. Days after his death, when Army brass tried to muscle Marie into signing off on a burial at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors, she had the presence of mind to refuse; according to a document Pat smuggled out to her just weeks before his death, he didn't want to become a "PR tool" for the military.

Which is exactly what the military tried to do. One of the film's many poignant moments occurs when Kevin Tillman, speaking at the Congressional hearing investigating his brother's death, accuses the U. S. government of trying to turn their personal family tragedy into "an opportunity" to glamorize combat. In his portrait of the indomitable Tillman family, Bar-Lev presents a towering profile in courage that has nothing to do with the false glory of war.

THE TILLMAN STORY ★★★1/2 (out of four)

A film by Amir Bar-Lev. A Weinstein Company release. Rated R. 94 minutes. (Opens 9/24)

Watch film trailer >>>

Comments (0)Add Comment

Write comment
smaller | bigger

busy
 

Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share

 

Aries Solar Festival

Sunday is Palm Sunday. Symbolizing victory and triumph, paradise, sacrifice and martyrdom, the Pisces World Teacher entered Jerusalem (City of Peace) on a donkey (signifying humility).

 

Sugar: The New Tobacco?

Proposed bill would require warning labels on sugary drinks Will soda and other saccharine libations soon come with a health warning? They will if it’s up to our state senator, Bill Monning (D-Carmel). On Feb. 27, Monning proposed first-of-its-kind legislation that would require a consumer warning label be placed on sugar-sweetened beverages sold in California. SB 1000, also known as the Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Safety Warning Act, was proposed to provide vital information to consumers about the harmful effects of consuming sugary drinks, such as sodas, sports drinks, energy drinks, and sweetened teas.

 

Animal Magnetism

Bear, mouse dare to be friends in charming ‘Ernest and Celestine’ It’s not exactly Romeo and Juliet. It’s not even a romance, although it is a love story about two individuals separated by prejudice who find the courage to form an unshakable bond despite the rules and traditions that keep them apart.

 

Printer's Devil

Iconic editor Buz Bezore, who died last month at the age of 68, left a huge mark on Santa Cruz journalism   Eventually, it’s all a blur. You live long enough, and maybe a little too hard at times, so that when you hit the rewind button of faded memory, it moves so fast that you can hardly sort and gather the details. One scene skips to the next, and to the next, without proper editing or sequencing. Chronologies get distorted. Which came first: stealing the chickens or coloring the eggs?
Sign up for Tomorrow's Good Times Today
Upcoming arts & events

Latest Comments

 

Foodie File: Yan Flower

Yan Belleville has owned Yan Flower, an affordable Chinese restaurant in Downtown Santa Cruz, with her husband Raymond for eight years, and it’s a family affair. Her brother, sister, sister-in-law, and cousins work there too. Locals know the joint for its massive lunch specials starting at $4.

 

How would you feel about a tech industry boom in Santa Cruz?

I feel like it would ruin the small old-town feeling of Santa Cruz. It wouldn’t be the same Surf City kind of vacation town that it is. Antoinette BennettSanta Cruz | Construction Management

 

Best of Santa Cruz County

The 2013 Santa Cruz County Readers' Poll and Critics’ Picks It’s our biggest issue of the year, and in it, your votes—more than 6,500 of them—determined the winners of The Best of Santa Cruz County Readers’ Poll. New to the long list of local restaurants, shops and other notables that captured your interest: Best Beer Selection, Best Locally Owned Business, Best Customer Service and Best Marijuana Dispensary. In the meantime, many readers were ever so chatty online about potential new categories. Some of the suggestions that stood out: Best Teen Program and Best Web Design/Designer. But what about: Dog Park, Church, Hotel, Local Farm, Therapist (I second that!) or Sports Bar—not to be confused with Bra. Our favorite suggestion: Best Act of Kindness—one reader noted Café Gratitude and the free meals it offered to the Santa Cruz Police Department in the aftermath of recent crimes. Perhaps some of these can be woven into next year’s ballot, so stay tuned. In the meantime, enjoy the following pages and take note of our Critics’ Picks, too, beginning on page 91. A big thanks for voting—and for reading—and an even bigger congratulations to all of the winners. Enjoy.  -Greg Archer, EditorBest of Santa Cruz County Readers’ Poll INDEX

 

Comanche Cellars

Pinot Noir 2010 I first tasted Comanche Cellars Pinot when a friend brought a bottle to share over lunch at Center Street Grill in Santa Cruz. Upon trying it, I knew I had to find out more about it.