Review: Val

Score:  B+

Director:  Ting Poo, Leo Scott

Running Time:  109 Minutes

Rated:  R

"I've lived a magical life."

Val Kilmer has become one of Hollywood's biggest mysteries. A heartthrob of the early 90s, the Juilliard graduate stormed onto the scene in 1995 as Iceman, opposite Tom Cruise, in Tony Scott's Top Gun. But decades later, the famed entertainer has all but disappeared.

For the last forty years, Kilmer has documented his daily life on video and film, amassing thousands of hours of footage that highlight his creative process, approach, and delivery. Ting Poo and Leo Scott's Val works to sort through the excess, pulling together pieces that showcase their subject in a raw, albeit biased light.

The film begins when Kilmer was young, discovering his love for the stage as he filmed 16mm home videos with his two brothers, Wesley and Mark. It's interesting watching him interact with his siblings, creating without fully realizing he is creating. The innocence is undeniable, the love shining through. It isn't until he becomes the youngest actor ever accepted into the renowned Juilliard School's Drama Division that we begin to see Val Kilmer, Hollywood star, come into focus.

Though written by Kilmer, his son Jack performs voiceover duties. Kilmer has lost much of his ability to speak fluidly following a successful fight with throat cancer. It's an interesting approach, allowing a younger voice to speak such knowing words. Still, the move permits for some heartfelt moments as Jack occasionally breaks character, learning new details of his dad's life.

When Kilmer landed Batman in Joel Schumacher's Batman Forever, he felt he was living out every young boy's dream. But the job proved anything but a fairytale as he struggled with the realization that the character was the drawing point, his body merely a vessel to get it to stand up properly. The event took its toll on the actor. Having always prioritized characterization and depth, he felt he lost a bit of himself in that project. His home videos more than confirm that.

Often labeled "difficult" and "obstructive," Val works to showcase an actor who is admittedly a perfectionist. His focus on the craft is undeniable. The care and detail he gives to each of his characters are remarkably intense. It doesn't take much thought to understand the grievances he likely received on set, especially when he wasn't the lead. However, his dedication to each project highlights his passion, his importance a direct line to theirs.

In many ways, Kilmer's obsession with his video camera allows Val to work to the level it does. Rough and semi-intrusive, the point of view perspective paints one of Hollywood's most forgotten icons in a humble light. As with any life, we witness happy and joyous times feed into heartbreak and sorrow as death and agony always appear to be waiting around the proverbial corner.

We often forget that no matter the money, fame, or success, life is unforgiving. Throat cancer aside, Kilmer has found himself in countless situations where timing and opportunity didn't align. His money hasn't always been his own, his relationship with his father never on solid ground. But his love, admiration, and serene approach to life will motivate and inspire.

Though Val presents a biased perspective, a partisan entry into a singular existence, you cannot argue the personality on display here. Love or loathe, Kilmer and the film are full of wit, charm, and self-awareness - a unique blend of traits that are both a requirement and a pitfall to his chosen profession.

*This film is available in theaters.  It premieres on Amazon Prime Video on August 6.


About Stephen Davis

Stephen Davis
I owe this hobby/career to the one and only Stephanie Peterman who, while interning at Fox, told me that I had too many opinions and irrelevant information to keep it all bottled up inside. I survived my first rated R film, Alive, at the ripe age of 8, it took me months to grasp the fact that Julia Roberts actually died at the end of Steel Magnolias, and I might be the only person alive who actually enjoyed Sorority Row…for its comedic value of course. While my friends can drink you under the table, I can outwatch you when it comes iconic, yet horrid 80s films like Adventures in Babysitting and Troop Beverly Hills. I have no shame when it comes to what I like, and if you have a problem with that, then we’ll settle it on the racquetball court. I see too many movies to actually win any film trivia contest, so don’t waste your first pick on me. My friends rent movies from my bookcase shelves, and one day I do plan to start charging. I long to live in LA, where my movie obsession will actually help me fit in, but for now I am content with my home in Austin. I prefer indies to blockbusters, Longhorns to Sooners and Halloween to Friday the 13th. I miss the classics, as well as John Ritter, and I hope to one day sit down and interview the amazing Kate Winslet.