Directors: Ting Poo, Leo Scott
Stars: Val Kilmer, Jack Kilmer, Mercedes Kilmer
It’s hard to quantify a life. Is the value of our life dictated by the money we accumulate? The family we’ve left behind? The legacy of our work, our imprint placed upon the planet like a hand in wet concrete, leaves us often sitting dreading the day that legacy is washed away from the ones who could have known us. It may seem odd to consider Val Kilmer in relation to legacy—at one time, movies seemed to succeed by mere association with his presence, yet at other times some may argue they would succeed in spite of him.
A Juilliard graduate, the star of Tombstone, Heat, and even Batman, but most of all a human, and in the more recent years of his life, a cancer survivor. Seeing Kilmer in the present day may be a shock to some unfamiliar with his condition. I had discovered Kilmer’s current state after the profile by the Times, but the viewers I watched Val with seemed to gasp in awe and even lower their eyes with a feign glimpse of pity for the once legend now plugging his throat just to speak. Yet Val is not a film designed to pity its topic. It’s not a film that yearns to get you to understand the titular character’s eccentricities, nor is it a film that wants you to empathise with his reputation following his divorce, nor is it a film that wishes you would give him another chance at doing what he loves. Val is a self-portrait.
It is a culmination of Kilmer’s life using archival footage he often took himself over the course of his years on this earth. It’s breathtakingly earnest, and even shockingly vulnerable at times. The film is perhaps long winded in moments, even scatterbrained and unfocused despite its rather linear method of storytelling. It is the curse of all documentary films to be burdened with too much footage, but despite having more compiled videos than anyone could possibly know what to do with, Val suffers surprisingly less than most.
It’s a film just as unafraid to show Kilmer moo-ing with delight at the sight of cows as it is to show Kilmer’s depression induced by the commercialisation of his profession. He laments in the height of his career that the things he loved about the work, the actual acting, was such a fractional component of what he actually had the pleasure of doing. The legacy of Kilmer’s work suddenly takes new shape as we watch the moments of brilliance (his final scene in Tombstone remaining a true treasure for any aspiring actor) hidden under the minutiae of making Kilmer into a star. Val shows a man fighting to love his work, to love his life, and being pulled from that love in ways all too relatable.
It’s a film for the film buffs (even the most middling cinephile is likely to gush at the staggering mess that produced The Island of Doctor Moreau) just as much as it is a film for those of us curious about the legacy of life. It is likely that you may see Val unaware of just how wide a breadth of work our subject has accumulated (to date, he has 105 acting credits on imdb, a staggeringly high amount for any A-List actor). His legacy is likely to be condensed into a mournful tale, a once-great cut down at the beginnings of a new surge (a Mark Twain related piece that is too rich to spoil), but if anything, Val shows so much more. It demonstrates the reverse of our expectations, a vulnerable portrait of true genius as Kilmer navigates life in the way he wants, not the way he is expected to. It’s a showcase of life and truth, a desire to be grateful for the modicum of happiness afforded to us in the time we have. I would love to see Kilmer on the screen again, vocal tribulations and all. Because the passion he shows for his work and life in Val can only bolster the generosity in his work moving forward. I’m likely not to get that wish. I hope I’m wrong. 9/10