Since the Gulf of Tonkin incident in 1964, one would think the U.S. government had given up on trying to lie to the American public about events of war, but, as this documentary by Amir Bar-Lev proves, the government still has not gotten over its habit of lying to its country. The movie focuses on the life and death of Pat Tillman, the Arizona football player-turned-Army ranger.
Tillman gave up his NFL career and joined the Army in the wake of September 11, 2001. He died on April 22, 2004 at the age of 27 in the mountains of Afghanistan. The military reported to his family and subsequently to the world when Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal awarded him posthumously the Silver Star that Tillman was killed by the enemy, in this case the Taliban. This was discovered to be a lie. Tillman was not killed by the enemy. Tillman was in fact killed by friendly fire and the military lied and tried to cover it up.
Oscar-nominee Josh Brolin narrates this story, which lets Tillman's family, led by his mother, offer up what happened and what they learned and how they learned it. Bar-Lev includes Tillman's brother, Kevin, who has since become very outspoken, as well as a few of the men whom were with Tillman the day that he died and saw exactly what went down.
With the family of course leading the way, Bar-Lev then walks us step-by-step through the government's lies and its propaganda, trying to deny what really happened to Pat Tillman and just as egregiously make Pat Tillman out to be something that he wasn't. Bar-Lev lays out all of the proof, which includes thousands of documents, memos and testimony. Yet, Bar-Lev stresses that this movie is less about the actual fratricide as it is about illusions that people, even those within our own military, feel the need to maintain.
References are made to the Jessica Lynch situation and even though it's not overtly stated, there is this feeling that there was a push within the military or government to dress up the appearance of things. President Geroge W. Bush disallowed the media showing flag-draped coffins coming back from either Afghanistan or Iraq. The Bush administration claimed that it was out of respect of the families, but, in any situation, especially in times of war, what's more respectful is for families to get the truth. Bar-Lev shows that that's not what the military did for Tillman's family.
In a powerful testimony that Tillman's mother gives on Capital Hill, she says that her pursuit of the truth of what really happened to her son in the face of the government's lies was less about getting justice for Tillman, but getting justice for any American family that supports the government even in times of war and trust that they're not going to have lies thrown at them. On the director's commentary, Bar-Lev makes the point that in the broader, cultural context, there is this hero worship and idealized distortion that people create whether it's about Tillman or anyone that needs to be addressed because it precludes us from seeing truth. It precludes us from seeing the human being versus the abstract, the person versus the symbol, the man versus the myth.
While Bar-Lev is able to link this conspiracy all the way up to Donald Rumsfeld and even President George W. Bush, he also chillingly shows how this conspiracy wasn't just a top-down situation like Abu Ghraib; it was equally a bottom-up conspiracy. Bar-Lev provides some men of experience to comment onto why that is. Through it, we get a picture of the effects of war that we rarely ever see.