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Big Screen | "Tillman" and "Unfinished" Bring Best of Festival Docs To Cinemas

Photo of Peter Knegt By Peter Knegt | Indiewire August 18, 2010 at 1:15AM

Two of the best reviewed documentaries off this year's festival circuit, Amir Bar-Lev's "The Tillman Story" and Yael Hersonski's "A Film Unfinished" both hit theaters this Friday. The films also share the distinction of arriving with controversial R-ratings by the MPAA (of which both "Tillman"'s Weinstein Company and "Unfinished"'s Oscilloscope understandably lashed out about), though hopefully this won't keep the both films from affecting and educating audiences come this weekend.
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Two of the best reviewed documentaries off this year's festival circuit, Amir Bar-Lev's "The Tillman Story" and Yael Hersonski's "A Film Unfinished" both hit theaters this Friday. The films also share the distinction of arriving with controversial R-ratings by the MPAA (of which both "Tillman"'s Weinstein Company and "Unfinished"'s Oscilloscope understandably lashed out about), though hopefully this won't keep the both films from affecting and educating audiences come this weekend.

The films also share themes of war and propaganda, though in very different contexts. "Tillman" focuses on Pat Tillman, a former NFL star-turned-soldier who died in Afghanistan in 2004 after joining the military because he thought it was the right thing to do. Bar-Lev's doc tracks the investigation into his death that his family launches after it begins to become clear that the military manipulated his death into a propaganda tool.

Meanwhile, "Unfinished" actually examines another film, the now-infamous Nazi-produced film about the Warsaw Ghetto that was discovered after the war with no soundtrack. Historians began using the film as an authentic record, but Hersonski's film brings a strong light to its propagandist construction in suggesting the Warsaw Ghetto was a place of luxury.

"Using outtakes from the project, the memories of survivors and the diary of the beleaguered head of the Jewish Council, she carefully unravels the production's manipulative intent," indieWIRE's Eric Kohn writes in his review of the film. "Her technique displays the skill of a masterful archivist rather than filmmaker, but 'A Film Unfinished' certainly holds its own as a unique cinematic experience."

Kohn is additionally impressed by "Tillman." "From an intellectual standpoint, the conclusion in 'Tillman' is fundamentally simplistic," he writes. "However, by displaying how and why the falsification took place, Bar-Lev creates the haunting sense that "The Tillman Story" has been told many times before. For better or worse, it's the American movie of the year."

Other kind words for "Tillman" - which averaged a rare "A" level score on criticWIRE - include those of Variety's Dennis Harvey, who calls the film "a riveting account of how a soldier's death in Afghanistan was spun into a web of public lies," and The Village Voice's Melissa Anderson, who writes: "Amir Bar-Lev's assiduous, furious documentary on the Army's craven cover-up and the Tillman family's determination to find out the truth is a withering assessment of U.S. military culture. Unlike Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger's Afghan-war doc 'Restrepo,' Bar-Lev's film feigns no pretense of 'neutrality.' War is hell, the former documentary relentlessly (if unhelpfully) reminds us. But 'The Tillman Story' goes deeper, exposing a system of arrogance and duplicity that no WikiLeak could ever fully capture."

As for "Unfinished," Todd McCarthy, then writing for Variety, said "it stands as a unique film-within-a-film, of significance for the historical value of the raw images, the memories they spur and internal evidence of how the Nazis staged scenes long assumed to be real."

New York's David Edelstein seems even more impressed. "The horror of A Film Unfinished transcends even its images of suffering and death, among the most obscene ever captured," he writes. "It becomes a meditation on the dual nature of film, on a “reality” at once true and false, essential and tainted."

Check out links to some of "Tillman" and "Unfinished"s reviews on their film pages as well as other films opening this weekend, plus recent theatrical releases, below. They include synopses, trailers, and a variety of grades and links to reviews.

iW Film Calendar & criticWIRE:
criticWIRE | Opening this week | Opening this month | All Films A - Z

criticWIRE: Films Opening This Week

The Tillman Story (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: A-

A Film Unfinished (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: B

Soul Kitchen (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: B-

Mao's Last Dancer (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: C+

happythankyoumoreplease (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: C+


criticWIRE: Films Currently In Theaters

The Kids Are All Right (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: B+

Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: B+

The Wildest Dream (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: B+

Peepli Live (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: B+

Animal Kingdom (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: B

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: B

Countdown To Zero (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: B

The Dry Land (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: B

The Disappearance of Alice Creed (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: B

Lebanon (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: B-

Cairo Time (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: B-

Life During Wartime (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: B-

Get Low (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: B-

The Girl Who Played With Fire (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: B-

Middle Men (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: B-

Spoken Word (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: C+

The Extra Man (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: C+

The Concert (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: C

Twelve (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: D+


Peter Knegt is indieWIRE's Associate Editor. Follow him on Twitter and on his blog.

This article is related to: In Theaters






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