Movie Review: ‘Val’

During the 80’s and 90’s actor Val Kilmer was one of the most popular stars in cinema. Bringing an intense method actor working style to leading man roles. He could be counted on to star in big studio blockbusters like Batman Forever, Real Genius and Top Gun but also capable of completely disappearing into compelling characters as in Tombstone and The Doors. But at the stage of his career when he should have successfully transitioned from hunky leading man to acclaimed character actor a reputation of being “difficult to work with” plagued him to the point this never came to fruition. Last many in the mass audiences had heard he was starring in a one-man stage play about Mark Twain before a health condition took him out of the game. But what most never realized is that for his entire life Val Kilmer had a video camera with him most anywhere he went. Now documentarians, Ting Poo and Leo Scott, we get to see over 40 years of the life of one of the most popular actors of his era. As we watch, through Kilmer’s lens the story of his career, we also see where the actor is now in his life in the new documentary film Val.

While throat cancer sadly robbed Val Kilmer of his voice 2017, so his words in this film are read by his son Jack, who sounds startlingly like his father. At times while watching I would forget that it was not him who was actually narrating. This emotionally powerful documentary tells two stories, one utilizes home movies to tell of Kilmer’s life from training at Julliard to becoming a massive movie star. At one point we see footage of his early stage days when an equally young and inexperienced Kevin Bacon and Sean Penn make asses of themselves goofing around and you can hear someone say “this is gonna be worth a lotta money someday” doubtfully realizing how right they were. Kilmer provides commentary on what it was like working on stellar productions like The Doors but also chaotic crapshows like the Island of Dr. Moreau a movie he only agreed to in order to work with his idol Marlon Brando. Beyond his celluloid life there is also plenty of footage of Val Kilmer the man in his personal life as a husband and father, living in his own slice of paradise in New Mexico. What Val also shows is what the actor is going through right now, after cancer robbed him of a comeback in his acclaimed Mark Twain stage show. As he tries to figure out his direction in life now it is a bittersweet story. In particular we see the toll of the fan events and cons he has been doing. Beyond the physical issues, Val Kilmer is open about his conflicted emotions on the matter, it is hard to have reminders of who he was constantly thrown in his face to be autographed. But at the same time he is truly grateful for his fans and his touched that his work has meant so much to them. At an autograph session in the actual Tombstone, Arizona it is obvious Kilmer is having the time of his life. While one would not fault Kilmer for retreating into a shell, he instead doubled down on what is really important in life, today he runs a large studio where he mentors a new generation of artists and has also found solace in his faith. More importantly the relationship with his children comes off as incredibly strong in the movie. The way he gets so giddy when he is about to meet his daughter for a night out will put a smile on anyone’s face and he and his son goof off like old buddies who have known each other years.

Ultimately Val is a poignant movie about tragedies and triumphs. A man who was once one of the most famous people on the planet cut down by a horrible illness looks back at the roller coaster of a life he led while also looking forward to a bright future. Naturally there are moments of heartbreak in the past and present. Through his own home movies we see the professional struggles he faced like conflict with directors and straining in his marriage to Joanne Whalley. In present we see his physical struggles as he endures the chaos of a sci-fi convention autograph booth and the tragic passing of his mother. Ultimately, Val is a story of joy as Val Kilmer finds new ways to fulfill his creative passions and finds comfort in a family who loves him back as much as he loves them. Thanks to the work of Ting Poo and Leo Scott with full cooperation Val Kilmer we get a full heartfelt portrait an actor so many of us knew as fans and now get to see as the man behind so many great performances.