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Sundance 2010: Michael Moore loves the Pat Tillman documentary, but will middle America?

January 24, 2010 | 12:20 pm

Pat_tillman Amir Bar-Lev, who was behind the Sundance hit "My Kid Could Paint That" a few years back, returns to the festival this year with a documentary about Pat Tillman, the former Arizona Cardinal who was killed in Afghanistan in 2004 after leaving behind his NFL career to enlist.

Bar-Lev directs "The Tillman Story" (formerly "I'm Pat ____Tillman," after what may have been the soldier's last words) with aplomb. Audiences essentially get two movies for the price of one: a portrait of a complex personality (a man who gave up everything to join the Army but also read the antiwar writings from Noam Chomsky) as well as the depth and scope of a U.S. military cover-up of his death by friendly fire. Bar-Lev's film, which premiered Saturday afternoon in Park City, Utah, is a strong depiction of something that has been well-documented but never culled in this way. What's notable is that, according to what the movie and the Tillman family allege, it wasn't simply the Army's incompetence that led them to say his death came from enemy fire, but an active and cynical desire to shape him into something he wasn't -- and in turn help sell a skeptical nation on a war.

It's little wonder, given the themes, that Michael Moore attended the Saturday premiere, telling us afterward that the Tillman film is "one of the most important movies you'll ever see about the U.S. military."

But for all the movie's creative virtues, (it's also a pretty compelling meditation on hero worship), there's a marketing snag to whatever distributor winds up buying it out of Park City. Tillman's fan base is comprised at least partly of the patriots and pro-militarists, the hawks and the Fox News watchers, who found inspiration in the story of a football player who decides to fight for the U.S. entirely of his own accord. Indeed, part of the appeal of the movie -- as A&E Indie FIlms, which made it, and CAA and Submarine Entertainment, which is selling it, have reminded -- is that the Tillman name recognition will help it play to a right-wing audience.

But there's a flaw here. While the film does put the spotlight on a neocon and Bible-belt hero, it mainly serves to tear down assumptions about him. In fact, its entire raison d'etre is to show him to be less a patriotic poster child than a quiet man with complex motivations who the military appropriated for its own reasons. All of which adds up to a paradox: The very people who would have an established interest in seeing the movie are those whose perceptions the movie seeks to undermine. There's a striking Fox News clip about midway through in which Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter say that they'd heard a rumor that Tillman read Chomsky and wanted to vote for John Kerry but they both "can't believe that." This movie pretty much makes you believe that, or at least makes you believe he's not the right-wing hero Coulter and Hannity would have you think he is.

In the film, Tillman's mother, Dannie, is especially impressive -- thoughtful, controlled and articulate -- and will no doubt be an asset when it comes to getting the word out. The family generally cuts a magnetic and candid figure. Asked about Jon Krakauer's book about Tillman, the soldier's youngest brother told the screening audience of the author that "that guy's a piece of ..." Dannie then chimed in, with a shrug of her shoulders, "I can't muzzle him." The movie honestly vocalizes plenty of truths. But it could be a trick to get people to listen.

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo credit: Associated Press

Comments () | Archives (22)

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Great idea .Exhume the dead ,expose the Emperor,reveal to us our ugliness in the cracked mirror ...then cash your check eh Moore ?

The truth can hurt-but also set us free. My continued prayers and support for the brave Tillman family for refusing to be silent and let their child die for a lie.

So why did the family take issue with Krakauer's book? It sounds like this movie is similar to his book.

Uh, "Tumbrel Jacquie"...what does Moore have to do with it other than attending the premiere?

Great idea! Puncture the lie with truth. This honors Pat Tillman, not the corrupt military that sought to coverup his death, and avoid responsibility. Thank You!

The truth is indeed inconveniently complex sometimes and it does not necessarily fit in with Fox News black and white programming model.

Jon Stewart can't be the only voice highlighting the idiocy that is Sean Hannity & company. Sounds like a definite must see.

Thanks for the opinion on another "gray" area. The world is not so black and white; republican and democrat; right and wrong. There's such thing as a flawed hero backing up a flawed system. Also, bravo for making the movie and coming to terms that it will not make any money in the US.

Wow. Olympic class condescension here. The writer, and perhaps the director, assume that conservatives would be shocked by the display of complex thoughts and emotions in one of their heroes. Their assumptions just mirror their own experience, not ours. The amount of humanity and complexity you grant your enemies says more about you than them.

@Tubrel Jacquie

You must be a FOX viewer, because you didn't read the article past the title. Moore isn't associated with the film except. He only watched it at Sundance and gave his opinion on it to the writer.

Tillman's younger brother probably doesn't like Krakauer's book on Tillman because it leaves out a lot that you find in Mrs. Tillman's book, "Boots On The Ground By Dusk". A Freedom of Information Act request by a number of journalists show, in an Army doctor's autopsy report provided by the Pentagon, that the Army scenario and Pat's head wounds did not match up. He was shot from very close up - so close that the good doctor asked for a homicide investigation - which the Army denied. Based on this report, Mrs. Tillman also asked for one, which the Army again denied. Pat was shot at three distinct times, in succession. After he threw a purple (PURPLE! as reported by the Ranger next to Pat, Brian O'Neil) smoke grenade, they stopped (to reload, Sgt. Baker states), they fire again, killing him. The two vehicles behind them saw all the other Rangers waving, and the Ranger vehicles, but the three shooters claimed they had tunnel vision.

The SAW gunner that put the three bullet holes in Pat Tillman's head claimed he saw Pat waving his arms over his head, but shot him anyway. He saw arms, but not Pat's Ranger uniform, no beard, and not Pat's face? Unbelievable. The driver of the vehicle shooting at Pat said he realized immediately that the men were shooting at Rangers, yet continued to advance towards the Rangers, and did not inform his fellow Rangers during two lulls in the firing, once to reload. Unbelievable. He must have seen the purple smoke grenade Pat threw, according to Ranger Pat O'Brien, who was next to Pat, and the flare another Ranger set off.
This was in mostly daylight. There was either criminal negligence or a homicide was commited, as the Army doctor who examined Pat's body alleged.

The title assumes that Michael Moore's views aren't representative of middle America, and while it's true that large sections of the mainstream media choose to dismiss him as a left-wing loon, he has in fact succeeded in making five out of the top seven highest grossing political documentaries of all time, which suggests that middle America aren't dismissing him in quite the same way.

"Almost_"(a brain)- Moore champions a distortion from a kindred mindset /pov -then he" cashes" his check... metaphorically speaking les douche".

Why O Why O Why.... Time and Time Again.... Where The Money Meets the rubber of the religious road in America do people continually question Micheal Moore's motives about why he makes his documentaries?

OK, so the same system he makes movies about and brings our attention too, also embraces him and shows it's support rewards him. i.e. Micheal Moore has made some honest money. A sure sign people like you and your artistry. No money=No reward. No money=People don't like you and your stuff. I truly believe this is what get the goats of neo-cons and Moore's detractors. The money part.

Micheal Moore has infiltrated their system. This makes them so angry, they could just spit. Similar to the way we can't believe the neo-cons pay Rush 50 million bucks a year to spew his venomous hate, they can't believe people pay money to see Moore's films, and are buying his stuff. It's always all about the money and motives.

If anyone knew how hard it is to make money from their craft or hobby or professional artistry, they'd know Micheal Moore has done the seemingly impossible and won an Academy Award on top of that. Some things money can't buy. Integrity/Honesty is one of these things. It's always about the money with these people.

Considering the film already has a broadcast deal with A & E, I'm not so sure marketing is such a worry.

And Krakauer's book deals with Pat's time in jail (summer after high school graduation, minor offense), as a pivotal point in his life, but the film doesn't mention it.

Brian O'Neil is interviewed in the film, and tells the same story. And no, Pat wasn't shot at close range.

AmericanVet: All that stuff you say was left out of Krakauer's book is actually there. In fact he provides a lot more details about how Pat was killed than Mrs. Tillman's book does. He does not believe that the Army deliberately killed Pat, however. Maybe that's why Kevin Tillman does not like Krakauer's book. Or maybe it's because although Krakauer presents Pat as an amazing person and a true hero, he doesn't not portray Pat as a saint. Krakauer shows him as a real person, warts and all. One of the most important events in Pat's life happened was when he was 17, when he mistakenly beat up an innocent bystander during a brawl after a high school football game, and went to jail for it. Both Krakauer's book and Mrs. Tillman's book cover this incident, but Mrs. Tillman's version has been sanitized to put Pat in a much better light. I've heard that the Tillmans were quite upset by Krakauer's more truthful telling of this youthful (and forgivable) blemish on Pat's reputation. I'm guessing that has something to do with Kevin's comment at the screening.

The decision to split the combat group in 2 in order to recover a broken down truck, when the area was considered dangerous was never prosecuted by the military, - why? - because an officer made that call from command headquarters. As is usually the case, career officers will go to any length to protect fellow officers. This act was the reason that US forces were shooting at one another. To save a few thousand dollars of equipment the lives of good men were trashed. What is worse is no one seems to care, especially the republican lip service professionals.

It appears the easiest way to promote your agenda is to take this dead man & put words , assertions ,opinions in his mouth etc..The possibilities are endless-for both sides.Have fun.

@Mano: Great point. The headline was just a way for the LA Times to not appear to support Michael Moore.

@Cheyanne: The reason for the attacks on Moore's profitability is because it's a psychological tactic to discredit him. You're not supposed to believe anything in his movies because he's just greedy. (Note the sick ideology: if you're one of us, you can't criticize anything about our team -- but on Wall Street or with profiteering weapons contractors, anything is game, and is glorified.)

@mrbill1951: The condescension is warranted, because the TV ad men that set up Presidential speeches know & understand that if military personnel are standing behind Bush, as a prop, then you think he has the full support of the military.

If he flies in on a fighter jet in a flight suit and walks tough, he must be a Fearless Leader.

If he says he never said Saddam had WMDs, then dang it, he didn't lie to us.

If he says God told him to invade Iraq, then, he's not delusional and simple-minded, he's just especially enlightened.

And you believe(d) him...and now everything is better.

I still want to know that if Tillman read Chomsky, how the *4@#)& could he think that volunteering was a smart thing to do??

Who remembers My Lai? Or the first cover up? Hint: An Army Major at Division HQ who went on to be Chairman of JCS and Secretary of State, and carried the Administration message to the UN?
For that matter, who remembers the Division Commander in Korea who got a posthumous Medal of Honor for firing a pistol at an NK tank (Private Ryan)? Only he was captured, tortured, and made propaganda for North Korea.
Cover ups and exaggerated medals are nothing new.

Hmm, this movie is coming out right before mid-term elections? This is a liberal propaganda movie being pushed down our throats to sway the ignorant people into voting for Democrats. The movie is going to make the soldiers who accidentally killed Tillman in an unfortunate accident into murderers. This whole movie is being produce to spit on the military and the Bush administration. The liberals want these soldiers to be portrayed as murderers and the whole government as using Tillman to support their war. I have had so many liberal friends calling the soldiers murderers and it is making me so extremely upset. I hope this movie backfires in their face. Tillman is rolling over in his grave knowing that he is being used as liberal propaganda.

"GOD BLESS" Pat Tillman, He was definitely a True Hero of our time.


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