The Tillman Story

Critics Consensus

Passionate, angry, and insightful, The Tillman Story offers a revealing portrait of its subject's inspiring life and untimely death.



Reviews Counted: 86

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Average Rating: 4.1/5

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Movie Info

In 2002, as America was poised to go to war in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Pat Tillman, a defensive back with the Arizona Cardinals, joined the United States Army, believing he had a duty to serve in a time of need even though he had signed a lucrative deal to play professional football. Tillman served a tour of duty in Iraq and was on patrol in Afghanistan when, on April 22, 2004, he was killed during a reconnaissance mission near the border of Pakistan. When word spread about Tillman's death, the Army issued a press release declaring he'd been shot down while trying to heroically block the fire of a band of Taliban insurgents. While the Army's story painted a glowing picture of the fallen soldier and athlete, some of the details sounded suspect to Tillman's family, and in time they began asking questions. As it happens, Tillman's parents were outspoken in their opposition to the war in Iraq, and after he had seen what was happening firsthand, so was Tillman, who had been a sharp student with an interest in politics during his college years. In time, Tillman's parents demanded an investigation into their son's death, and the testimony of several witnesses revealed that Tillman wasn't felled during an act of heroism -- his death was the result of "friendly fire" by men from his own company, shooting indiscriminately at an unknown target. Filmmaker Amir Bar-Lev examines Pat Tillman's unusual life and times, the facts about his death, how and why the military created a cover story to hide the truth, and his family's battle to bring the real story into the open in the documentary The Tillman Story, which received its world premiere at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival.

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Critic Reviews for The Tillman Story

All Critics (86) | Top Critics (29)

  • We may never know exactly who shot Pat Tillman on that ridge in Afghanistan or why, but we have a better idea of who he was.

    Oct 29, 2010
  • Bar-Lev's documentary's greatest service isn't in recounting the Army's back-pedaling so much as underscoring how communal needs and family grief don't perfectly align. And that political usefulness may attempt to trump all other rites.

    Sep 17, 2010 | Rating: 3/4
  • The Tillman Story clearly lays out exactly what happened that caused Tillman to be blown to bits by fellow U.S.forces -- and the government's efforts to whitewash the story to avoid mounting criticism of the war.

    Sep 16, 2010 | Rating: 3/4
  • Watching the film, emotions range from sadness, of course, to frustration to outright anger. This, truly, is the best we can do? Throwing up roadblocks in front of the truth, not trusting the American people to understand the nature of war...

    Sep 8, 2010 | Rating: 4.5/5 | Full Review…
  • Could you imagine how difficult it must have been to pore over records containing the brutal facts of your son's death?

    Sep 2, 2010 | Rating: 4/4 | Full Review…
  • [An] uncompromising documentary.

    Sep 2, 2010 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for The Tillman Story

"The Tillman Story" is the true story of ex NFL player turned fallen Army Ranger, Pat Tillman. Told by his family and friends it's a very real and sad portrait of a family in need of answers for the death of their son. The main focus of the movie is about the coverup of his death. At first it was reported that enemy fire killed Tillman, then it became known that it was friendly fire. But the hire ups wanted to use Tillman's death as propaganda for the war going on and to become a symbol of patriotism. Turns out almost everything the media and government have said about Tillman was B.S. He was much more complex than what he was portrayed to be. The film is fascinating and will grab your attention from beginning to end. In the end your left with the family wishing to have answers, yet feeling angry over the governments lack of resolve. Unflinching and at times uncomfortable to watch, this documentary is must see. If for no other reason than to see how wrong our government system works. Especially in honoring those who have given up everything to serve our country.

Everett Johnson
Everett Johnson

Super Reviewer

"a mystery. a cover up. a crime. one family will risk everything for the truth." Pat Tillman never thought of himself as a hero. His choice to leave a multimillion-dollar football contract and join the military wasn't done for any reason other than he felt it was the right thing to do. The fact that the military manipulated his tragic death in the line of duty into a propaganda tool is unfathomable and thoroughly explored in Amir Bar-Lev's riveting and enraging documentary.

Sitting down to write about the "The Tillman Story" makes me recall the same emotions that the movie evokes, and frustration is at the forefront. I want to start by writing about the premise, the story of an intelligent young man who was a successful football player, who ended up dying while fighting in war. But that is exactly what Pat Tillman, the late protagonist, wouldn't want. In addition, Pat Tillman was the only thing the country was talking about for several months in 2004. And then I want to extol the artistic merits of the story-telling in this movie, and how it carefully peels away at the truth behind his death. But ultimately the film-making qualities aren't what make this movie worth seeing. After that, I want to explain why "The Tillman Story" is simultaneously wonderful and terrible... wonderful in that it shines light on a shadow that deserves to be exposed, but terrible for how the viewer feels after seeing what was there. It is not the movie itself that is terrible, but instead how the story makes you feel after seeing it. But these descriptions are better left for the movie to tell. "The Tillman Story" is worth seeing, and even more so if you are an American. It provides glimpses into the US military complex and it's mechanisms of self preservation. It details a family's experience with the death of one of their own. It will give you a mix of reactions and emotions, with no real final answer to the issues at stake. If you are looking for a light-hearted romp, or a documentary about the latest easy-going topic-du-jour, "The Tillman Story" isn't the right place to start.

Lorenzo von Matterhorn
Lorenzo von Matterhorn

Super Reviewer

I ordinarily hate political documentaries. They're so angry and preachy and take forever to get the point, and usually the message is along the lines of "Look how much the government sucks, guys." But "The Tillman Story" falls under the narrative of a grand drama. The details are withheld and revealed with such stunning grandiosity you almost forget you're watching a documentary altogether. The film fits in a mountain of emotions into a very technicality-laced story, and the results are truly astonishing.

Jennifer Xu
Jennifer Xu

Super Reviewer


Never does it cease to amaze me, what the people in power will do just to protect their own behinds. I don't wanna sound too melodramatic here, but it's sad to live in a world where our authorities not only cover up the truth, but also exploits someone's death to their own benefit. If that's not the definition of wrong, then I don't know what is. What's even worse though, is the fact that the death was caused by soldiers fighting on the same side. Trigger-happy psychopaths, negligent to the safety of their brothers-in-arms. Thankfully though, there are people like the Tillman family.People who wouldn't let themselves be quieted, and made a stand for truth, justice and personal integrity. This film tells their story, and their fight against the corruption of a government they once trusted. A superb documentary, that inspires, upsets and involves you to the fullest. Not to be missed!

Mike S
Mike S

Super Reviewer

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