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Blu-ray Reviews

HTF BLU-RAY REVIEW: The Tillman Story

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#1 of 4 OFFLINE   Richard Gallagher

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Posted January 30 2011 - 02:55 PM

The Tillman Story

Studio: Sony
Year: 2010
Rated: R
Program Length: 95 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 1080p
Languages: English 5.1 DTS-HD
Subtitles: English, English SDH

The Program

I think they just thought if they spun the story and we found out, we'd just keep it quiet because we wouldn't want to diminish his heroism or anything like that...What they said happened didn't happen. They made up a story. And so you have to set the record straight. - Mary "Dannie" Tillman, mother of Pat Tillman
On April 1, 2003, a company of U.S. Army Rangers was poised outside a civilian hospital in Nasiriya, Iraq. The U.S. military had learned from several sources that PFC Jessica Lynch, who had been taken prisoner by Iraqi forces on March 23, was being held in the hospital. Among the waiting Rangers was Pat Tillman, a former professional football player who had given up a multi-million-dollar National Football League contract when he volunteered to join the Army in the aftermath of 9/11. Tillman reportedly became exasperated when he learned that the rescue mission was being delayed in order to give the Army time to get a camera crew in place to film the rescue. The Army, of course, had greatly exaggerated the circumstances of PFC Lynch's capture, claiming that she had been shot in a firefight and later tortured by her captors. In reality, she had never fired her weapon and she was knocked unconscious when her vehicle crashed. Her rescue, which was billed as a daring nighttime raid, in fact was accomplished with the full cooperation of the hospital staff and with no opposition from Iraqi forces.

A little more than a year later - April 22, 2004 - Pat Tillman was killed while on patrol in Afghanistan. The initial reports stated that he was shot in the head during a Taliban ambush, and within six days of his death he was posthumously awarded a Silver Star, the citation for which stated that Tillman had faced "devastating enemy fire." Actually, Tillman's unit probably never came under an enemy attack at all, and in fact he was killed by friendly fire. In one of life's great ironies, the fiction which surrounded Jessica Lynch's capture and rescue was being repeated when the Army decided to cover up the true circumstances surrounding Pat Tillman's death. On May 3, 2004 a memorial service was held for Tillman in San Jose, California. At the service, he was eulogized as a hero who had died while under enemy fire, even though it was subsequently established that by the end of April the Army was all but certain that he had been killed by his fellow soldiers.

As Tillman's mother suggests, the Army was sadly mistaken if it thought that the family would quietly acquiesce in the cover-up. The first hint came during the memorial service, when Tillman's younger brother Richard announced to the crowd, ""He's not with God. He's fucking dead. He's not religious. So thanks for your thoughts, but he's fucking dead."

The Tillman Story wisely spends a considerable amount of time exploring Tillman's life prior to his decision to join the Army. He was an extremely bright, inquisitive, well-read and complex young man - in a very real sense, the antithesis of the stereotypical jock. He joined the Army because he wanted to fight the Taliban, and he was disillusioned when the Bush Administration decided to invade Iraq. In spite of that, he turned down an opportunity to return to the NFL when his tour of duty in Iraq ended. He had made a commitment, and when he decided to fulfill his enlistment he was deployed to Afghanistan. The film also emphasizes the remarkable strength and resilience of Tillman's family, in particular that of his mother.

On the whole, this film is apolitical, although it is highly critical of the upper echelon of the U.S. Army. There is no evidence that the Bush Administration was directly involved in the cover-up, although Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld apparently had an episode of amnesia when he testified during a Congressional hearing about Tillman's death. The film presents devastating evidence that Army generals such as General Stanley McChrystal and General John Abizaid knew that Tillman had been the victim of friendly fire within a week of the incident. One of the more disturbing sequences shows how the Army tried to pressure Tillman's wife into agreeing to a military funeral and burial in a national cemetery, both of which he had expressly rejected in writing when he enlisted. The Tillman Story is both illuminating and infuriating, and is one of the better documentaries of 2010.

The Video

This Blu-ray transfer from Sony is excellent and undoubtedly looks as good as the film appeared when it was projected in theaters. As with most documentaries, the source material varies in quality, but even the weak footage looks as good as possible. Detail in the original interview footage is sharp and detailed, and it effectively conveys the intense emotions of the participants. This is not a reference Blu-ray disc by any means, but no one who views it will be disappointed by this presentation.

The Audio

The lossless 5.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack is very good, although it is inherently limited by the source material. There is little for the surround channels to do, and the voices of the interviewees and narrator Josh Brolin are confined to the center channel. The soundtrack does open up a bit for the effective musical score by composer Philip Sheppard.

The Supplements

The only extra on this Blu-ray disc is a very interesting and informative commentary track by director Amir Bar-Lev. If anything, his commentary is more critical of the Army and the Bush Administration than the film itself.

Sony has also included trailers for an odd assortment of films: Nowhere Boy, Game of Death, Sniper Reloaded, and The Hit List.

BD-Live features will  be activated on the release date.

The Packaging

The single Blu-ray disc is packaged in a standard Blu-ray keep case.

The Final Analysis

The Tillman Story is a compelling and unflinching look at how the U.S. Army betrayed the memory of a brave man by lying about and then covering up the true circumstances of his death. The pain inflicted upon the Tillman family was only compounded when the Congress conducted a hopelessly incompetent and ineffective investigation. Most viewers will likely conclude their viewing of this film with a justified sense of outrage.

Equipment used for this review:

Panasonic DMP-BD50 Blu-ray player
Panasonic Viera TC-P46G15 Plasma display, calibrated to THX specifications by Gregg Loewen
Yamaha HTR-5890 THX Surround Receiver
BIC Acoustech speakers
Interconnects: Monster Cable

Release Date: February 1, 2011

Rich Gallagher

#2 of 4 OFFLINE   Michael Reuben

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Posted January 30 2011 - 03:22 PM

Thanks for covering this, Rich! It came and went to quickly in theaters for me to catch it, but it's on my "must see" list.
COMPLETE list of my disc reviews.       HTF Rules / 200920102011 Film Lists

#3 of 4 OFFLINE   Richard Gallagher

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Posted February 01 2011 - 01:02 AM

I should have mentioned in the review that it plays out like a mystery. Tillman's mother waded through boxes of redacted documents and hounded the Army in order to piece together information which enabled her to get a reasonably accurate picture of what happened.

Rich Gallagher

#4 of 4 OFFLINE   Vincent_P



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Posted February 01 2011 - 07:04 AM

When this was released theatrically there was an interview with the director where he mentioned a deleted scene of Tillman's mother reading out loud from some "spec scripts" that had been sent to her "dramatizing" Pat Tillman's story.  One scene had Tillman's father leading the family in prayer before dinner (the Tillmans are athiests) and another was one of those 1980's style montages where Pat takes his motorcycle out on a soul-searching ride before he makes his decision to quit the NFL and enlist.  It sounded like some hilariously cliched Hollywood clap-trap, and it would have been cool to see this and other deleted material. Vincent

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