- Starring: Val Kilmer
- Directed by: Ting Poo and Leo Scott
- Rated: R
- Running time: 1 hr 49 mins
- Amazon Studios
Let me say here at the beginning that I have been a Val Kilmer fan since“Top Secret.” Couple that performance with his role of Chris Knight in“Real Genius” and he was, by far, one of my favorite actors of the 1980s.Over the years he has been a part of some wonderful films, and has created
Such iconic performances as Jim Morrison in “The Doors” – hey Academy, I’m still waiting for you to explain why Val wasn’t nominated for his work – and, of course, “Doc” Holiday in “Tombstone.” But there is a lot more to Val Kilmer than you or I think we know and the documentary “VAL” gives us a true look at the artist and his processes.
The film begins with a quick montage of Mr. Kilmer’s work, then a voiceover begins the story. I was taken aback when I heard that Mr. Kilmer had dealt with throat cancer which had ruined his speaking voice. We then learn that, though the words were penned by Val, the narration is coming from his son, Jack, who sounds amazingly like his father. Val does talk some during the film, but his voice is so raspy that subtitles are often required to fully understand his comments.
Mr. Kilmer informs the viewer that he was one of the first people he knew to own a video camera. As a youngster, he and his brothers used to make their own takes on popular films, among them “Jaws.” (how could I not love this guy?) Outgoing and popular, he becomes the youngest person ever accepted into the acting program at Julliard and heads to New York. There he strives to learn everything an actor needs to know for a successful career. We see early footage of he and his classmates working on shows. We also learn that an actor’s job is humbling. Signed for the lead in his first New York theater production, young Val is soon asked to play a lesser role because Kevin Bacon is available. Things get even worse when, a week later, he’s asked to take an even lesser role to accommodate Sean Penn.
As his career takes off we are taken behind the scenes of several of his Films, including “Top Gun,” “The Doors” and, most interestingly, “The Island of Dr. Moreau.” The last film is legendary for all of the mishaps that beset it during production. From replacing the director to script changes, there is plenty of blame to go around. Most of the stories I’ve heard centered around Mr. Kilmer’s alleged indifference to the project and his temperament. Maybe. But from the footage shared it look’s like Mr. Kilmer’s dream of working with Marlon Brando became a nightmare for all involved. In one funny clip, Mr. Kilmer and co-star David Thewliss are talking about Brando when the actor comes on the set in full costume. Only after studying the man do the two actors realize that isn’t really Brando Further investigation reveals, it is a guy named Norm, who is filling in for Brando.
One thing I enjoyed learning is that, when submitting audition tapes for roles he’d like to play, instead of just reading lines Mr. Kilmer would make short films, His takes on prospective roles in “Full Metal Jackeet” and “Goodfellas” are quite inventive. He shares a lot of thoughts on how he got the role of Jim Morrison in “The Doors” as well as how he took over for Michael Keaton in “Batman Forever.” His words ring true when he says that every boy wants to be Batman. Amen, brother.
Something else I found fascinating is that Mr. Kilmer toured in a one-man show where he portrayed Mark Twain. There are a few clips included and he’s marvelous. Move over, Hal Holbrook.
Of course, with a career like Mr. Kilmer’s, some films get glossed over. I would love to know his thoughts on “Real Genius,” “Willow,” “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, “ Wonderland” and others. But, to paraphrase Spencer Tracy, “what there is is cherse.”
Mr. Kilmer is slated to be in the upcoming “Top Gun: Maverick,” which was originally slated to be released in 2020. Can’t wait to see the Iceman again. He can be my wingman anytime!