Val is a sobering, heartfelt, and sympathetic portrait of an underrated actor who threw himself into his craft.
Published on August 20, 2021
Rating 4 /5
Val Kilmer is given one last firm voice in this emotional and enduring documentary. It’s an autobiography that shows the many shades of a conflicted actor that most only knew from Top Gun or Batman Forever. Despite having lost his voice during surgery and being able only to communicate through a special button in his throat, Val’s son, Jack, provides the narration of bringing about Val’s words in a beautiful and nostalgic way. The result is a documentary that gives the actor a chance to tell his story his own way.
It was very fascinating to see just how many home movies Val Kilmer had shot of both himself and his family. He came from a family who adored movies and Val found himself shooting many homages to his favorite films with his brother. The productions were incredibly charming and you can see the acting bug in Val start to take flight. However, the passing of his brother at such an early age seemed to dampen his dreams and make him strive towards acting all the tougher.
The film jumps around different points in time. We follow around present-day Kilmer as he attends conventions and special events, where he speaks more for himself among others. While he does feel a sense of pride amid the Comic-Con crowds, he also feels there’s a grueling nature to the public crowds, where he has to cover himself with a sheet when being wheeled out to avoid the looks. Other events, as with a special outdoor screening of Tombstone, feel more meaningful with a chance to escape and let the blues come and go for the life he lives.
Val’s scrapbook of movies will also open up and we get to hear his stories of key entries in his filmography. We learn how he threw himself into the spy comedy of Top Secret by practicing for weeks to learn the guitar for his starring role as a rock musician, only to discover the director wanted him to intentionally play poorly. We get some insight into Val’s uneasiness about making a film like Top Gun considering his bitter distaste for the military but found himself forced into such a role and made up his own backstory for such a nothing character as Goose.
It’s only once we get to the films of Tombstone, Batman Forever, and The Island of Dr Moreau that we learn how devoted and bitter Val became about his career as an actor. Tombstone found him going the extra mile for acting by sitting on ice for his character of Doc Holiday being on his deathbed. Batman Forever seemed like a dream for the actor considering how much he idolized Batman but found the role to be thankless with a restricting suit and never really having a breakout moment. Finally, The Island of Dr Moreau found the actor at his worst when not only handling an emotionally draining experience but having to deal with his divorce during shooting, with the papers being handed to him on set. Kilmer’s confrontations on the set of The Island of Dr. Moreau would follow him throughout his career, despite him pursuing more fulfilling projects of Heat, The Saint, and The Prince of Egypt.
We get to see a lot of shades of Kilmer in this documentary, especially with 800 hours of footage sorted through with both home movies and events. It was deeply tragic to watch some of these videos, especially his Easter video to his kids after the divorce, trying to replicate the experience of finding Easter eggs without his children. There’s also an enduring spirit to Val that comes through even in his old age. While attending the funeral of a family member, he tries to keep up spirits by running around and filming his family as he shoots silly string at them and tosses plush dolls in their direction. It’s also surprising to see that Kilmer’s final role was that of portraying Mark Twain in a live show that seems surprisingly entertaining for the actor jumping into a role he’d been eager to play.
Val is a sobering, heartfelt, and sympathetic portrait of an underrated actor who threw himself into his craft. Kilmer was not a perfect man and aspects of his flawed personality do seem to be glazed over for parts of the picture, reducing his chaos on The Island of Dr Moreau to a handful of clips. But as an auto-biography, there’s a lot of ground covered and lets Kilmer tell his story in a meaningful way that sheds more light on an actor who tried to hide much of his emotional wounds.
Mark has been a professional film critic for over five years and a film lover all his life.