‘Val’, a documentary about Val Kilmer

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Val Kilmer on the set of Top Gun in Val.
Photo: Amazon

Val Kilmer was the first person he knew to have a video camera, and he’s been recording his life for over 40 years. As an actor, he seems to have taken his camera everywhere: behind the scenes of dressing rooms in the early 1980s, where other talents like Sean Penn and Kevin Bacon praised his lens; drunken parties and gab trailer sessions Top Gun, in which he and his friends playfully plotted against their co-star Tom Cruise; and the famous troubled ensemble of Dr Moreau’s Island, where Kilmer clashed with veteran director John Frankenheimer but was able to act in the face of his idol, Marlon Brando, even though at that point Brando was clearly a shell of a shell of what he once had been. .

These images form the backbone of the new documentary Val, which ends at just over 90 minutes. I am not lying when I say that I would have gladly watched 36 hours of family films by Val Kilmer. He seems to have the great documentary filmmaker’s nose to put his lens where it shouldn’t, and he also has a decent eye. As it stands, the images of these shootings in Val (directed by Leo Scott and Ting Poo) consists mostly of mouth-watering clips, interspersed with glimpses of his life over the years: his audition recordings, his acting lessons, his marriage to Joanne Whalley, his divorce from Joanne. Whalley, conversations with his now- deceased parents.

The years go by like pages in the wind, and that’s kind of the goal. Val shows us Kilmer’s past while following Kilmer into the present. A battle with throat cancer has robbed him of much of his voice and he has to press a button on his throat to speak. But he persists, going from fan convention to fan convention, working on the paintings that are his current passion, and spending time with his grown children. As an actor, Kilmer has to live with the image of what he once was, and it’s not exactly easy. During a special outdoor screening of tomb stone in Texas he is frustrated that he can never escape those old movies. Then he hears the cheers of the crowd and feels their love, and he is moved. He’s like a prisoner who has to find ways to free his mind.

This tension between Val’s present and Val’s past captures the imagination, as Val’s past wasn’t exactly a fixed object. Those of us who watched Kilmer back then weren’t always sure what to make of him. In his prime, he was never really a leading man; he was more like someone’s idea of ​​a prominent man, with his blond hair, strong jaw, big teeth, full lips, and confident blue eyes. But he often gave great performances, especially in parts that played with this idea. He’s perfect as a low-bulb Elvis clone in Top secret! These looks designed in a lab were perfect for Iceman, the ber-mensch pseudo-antagonist of Top Gun. And what about his turn as Chris Shiherlis, the second romantic banana of Robert De Niro’s master thief in Heat? His face burst, he gets the emotional climax of the film when his wife, played by Ashley Judd, waves him away from a police ambush with the slightest wave of her hand, saving his life and destroying him forever. . It was Val Kilmer at his best, a rough and ruined golden god.

Kilmer’s performances became more interesting and compelling as he got older and more impaired, so it’s doubly tragic that his medical issues kept him from working as an actor on a regular basis. At the time of his illness, he was traveling the country doing a one-man show under the name Mark Twain, a sort of dream project that he still hopes to someday turn into a movie. Kilmer looks healthy today – busy and energetic – but the specter of death looms over the film. Val’s younger brother Wesley, who was the mastermind behind most of their youthful film shenanigans, has passed away suddenly at the age of 15, and it’s clear the actor, who was in Juilliard at the time , never really recovered from the loss. (Who would?) At some point, an older Val starts to feel bad after a day signing photos at a convention and has to walk away and throw up. He is taken in a wheelchair to a room to sleep. As the camera continues to document all of this, we also see personal film footage of the young late Wesley, almost as if a curtain is parting slightly from the Great Beyond. Kilmer tells us at one point that he was drawn to Twain’s story in part because of the family grief the author suffered later in his life. Death, it seems, is never far from his mind.

However, Val is not a dark film at all. Rather the opposite. It’s vibrant, fast-paced, and alive, and Val Kilmer is an entertaining guide today, with his hammy facial gestures now duplicating as he can’t speak. He also tells, weirdly, the movie: his son, Jack, reads his father’s words in his father’s voice, which creates an extra layer of reflection in the film, an extra layer of elusiveness. Jack Kilmer looks a lot like Val Kilmer, but the fact that he’s not Val Kilmer adds to the slippery nature of the subject. Who is Val Kilmer? Val don’t really know. Perhaps, the film suggests, to be alive simply means to be indefinable.

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