PARK CITY, Utah (Reuters) - A documentary about U.S. football star-turned-soldier Pat Tillman, who was killed in Afghanistan, stirred Sundance Film Festival crowds over the weekend with its look at what makes a hero.
Tillman, who gave up a multimillion-dollar professional football career to enlist in the U.S. military in the wake of the September 11 attacks in 2001, became an instant symbol of American patriotic self-sacrifice after his death in 2004.
First reported as dying to protect his comrades from Taliban guns, the military soon revised its account to say Tillman was killed by friendly fire in the chaos of combat.
“The Tillman Story” tells how his family became frustrated with the conflicting accounts, began unearthing disturbing details of Tillman’s final minutes and concluded the military’s tale of his death was twisted solely to create a war hero.
“The result is not an expose, but rather a consolidation of story fragments into an infuriating document of military protocol gone awry,” show business news website TheWrap.com wrote in an early review.
Directed by Amir Bar-Lev, who helmed the 2007 Sundance breakout documentary “My Kid Could Paint That,” the new movie uses extensive interviews with Tillman’s family and fellow soldiers to tie together events.
His family — led by Tillman’s mother, Dannie — studied more than 3,000 pages of redacted documents, filling-in gaps and eventually raising suspicions that Tillman’s final firefight strayed far from the military’s official account.
The circumstances of his death were never conclusively determined. His family’s efforts prompted a congressional probe, but it failed to assign blame in the cover-up.
Bar-Lev pairs the family’s David-versus-Goliath story with a closer look at Tillman himself, unraveling the caricature of an unflinching patriot initially embraced by the media.
Instead, Tillman is shown as an intellectually curious man who eschewed the spotlight and harbored doubts about the morality and legality of war.
Bar-Lev puts forward the notion that Tillman, who served in both Afghanistan and Iraq, may indeed deserve to be considered a hero, but for the way he lived rather than how he died.
The film does not yet have a wide release date.
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Vicki Allen