Review: ‘Val’

I would never have guessed the next documentary about a well known actor coming down the Hollywood pipeline would involve Val Kilmer, but here we are. Yes it can be a bit self indulgent at times, but it’s also an affecting portrait of the pendulum swings of life involving family, art, and ruminations about mortality. Not to mention, Kilmer is a fascinating subject for the way he’s transformed from an oft-thought of cinema bad boy to a seasoned man accepting new challenges and a zen outlook after his body has begun to break down.

Directed by Leo Scott and Ting Poo, Val certainly wouldn’t exist without the continuous video history Kilmer has compiled along the way. As one of the first people to own a camcorder in the late 1970’s (and now a warehouse to store said history), the film uses Kilmer’s own images to hurdle through his life, from his school days at Julliard to various on-set altercations as he progressed from young actor to mega-budget movie star. It’s not always flattering- such as his needling of director John Frankenheimer during the doomed production of The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996)- but it feels necessary in telling his story. And while certain elements do come off as tabloid exposure, most of Val reveals a man changed by old age and forced to live with the shadows (both good and bad) of the past.

Outside of the video footage that serves as an IMDB like checklist of his work, the documentary shows Kilmer continuing to make comic convention appearances and generally live life over the course of the last three years as he’s struggled with throat cancer… a diagnosis that’s replaced his voice with a breathing tube. As he says in the film, he feels a lot better than he looks, and he looks to be having a genuine time as he strolls out to a wide audience about to watch Tombstone (1993) in the open Texas air. For all the moments of privileged arrogance that his camcorder caught while preening across movie sets in the 80’s and 90’s, Val more than makes up for it for the way he’s seemingly embraced his presence nowadays.

A good part of that appears to be fatherhood. Spotlighting both his daughter Mercedes and son Jack, it’s the latter who provides the actual voice of the film. Not only does his son sound a great deal like Val did in his twenties, but his reading of Kilmer’s words in narration reveals a depth of understanding and poetry that adds even more gravitas to a man adapting to the curve balls thrown at him- reflected through the young eyes of his offspring.

For Kilmer ‘completists’ (I suppose they are out there), Val may be a superficial treatise on the man, but for others looking for something a bit different than a CNN-style examination of the actor, this is the film for them. And where else could one see teenage Kevin Bacon and Sean Penn mooning a video camera?

Val opens in the Dallas/Fort Worth area on Friday July 23rd at the following locations: The Texas Theatre, Cinemark West Plano, Fort Worth Grand Berry Theater and North East Mall 18. The film will begin streaming on Amazon beginning Friday August 6th.