From Jim Morrison in The Doors (1991) and ‘Iceman’ in Top Gun (1986), to Simon Templar in The Saint (1997) and the Caped Crusader in Batman Forever (1995), actor Val Kilmer has played a number of great roles on the big screen. He’s been a supporting player and a lead star; and he’s experienced huge success and crushing defeats.
But none of the parts in his portfolio have been quite as challenging as some of the things he has experienced in the real-world. From divorce and heartache, to a well-publicised battle with throat cancer, Kilmer has lived a turbulent life filled with many ups and downs.
And it is Kilmer’s life which is the subject of a new docu-film, which is now available to watch in the UK. The movie – which was released in the US in 2021 – is called Val, and it can be purchased through all major digital platforms right now, or rented from June 7th.
Directed by Ting Poo and Leo Scott, Val is a frank, open, and honest account of Kilmer’s life, which details the progression of his career and the decline in his health. The docu-film explores his early years, prior to getting his big break; covers his rise to fame as one of Hollywood’s hottest stars; and talks about the personal difficulties he’s experienced fighting cancer.
The film looks at the good stuff and the bad, with no stone left unturned. From his time in the Batcave, and his friendship with Tom Cruise, to his struggles shooting The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996), Val has time for it all.
In essence, this docu-film brings together everything you might want to know about the actor, and compresses it into less than two-hours. And most important of all, the film includes footage of Kilmer that has never been seen before, as well as plenty of input from the man himself.
What makes Val unique is that the vast majority of the movie is pieced together from home video footage captured by the actor over the years. Ever since he was a child, Kilmer has recorded himself, his friends, and his colleagues on candid camera, and he has given directors Leo Scott and Ting Poo access to a wealth of this material, to help illustrate his story.
But it doesn’t just stop there. Val is told from the perspective of Kilmer, with the actor narrating the movie via the aid of his son, Jack.
Due to the impact of his battle with cancer, Kilmer finds it difficult to speak, so for Val he ropes in Jack Kilmer to lend his voice. Jack speaks his father’s words, to ensure the movie has a certain authenticity to proceedings, and this allows Kilmer to speak without having to utter a word.
Jack Kilmer sounds eerily like his father, and is the perfect man for this job. Between him, his dad, and the two directors, they are able to tell an insightful and emotional story.
And that’s what Val is – a docu-film with plenty of heart. The film peels back the many layers of Kilmer, to present a blow-by-blow account of his life, with lots of contemplation and reflection thrown in for good measure.
As mentioned above, Val doesn’t shy away from any topic, so the breakdown of his marriage to actress Joanne Whalley is covered, and the death of his younger brother Wesley is detailed. The relationship with his parents, his children, and his fanbase is also up for discussion, and there are conversations about roles he wanted but never got, and jobs he’s taken to pay the bills.
If you want to know why Kilmer quit playing the role of Batman, then you can find the answer in this movie. Likewise, if you want to know what struggles he goes through to balance his health with his need to provide an income, you can also learn about this too.
In fact, his health plays a big part in this movie, and throughout the film there are moments in which present-day Kilmer speaks directly to the camera, revealing the extent to which his real voice has been damaged. Moments like these add a certain rawness to the story, and make it clear that Kilmer is keen for the wider world to understand who he is – both in terms of his past, but more importantly, his present.
I found Val to be an engrossing insight into the life of this high-profile actor. Kilmer has always had a commanding screen presence, but often his off-screen antics have overshadowed his performances, and this docu-film helps to readdress the balance.
With this film, Kilmer is able to re-frame who he is and give audiences a better understanding of what makes him tick. Whether you’re a long-term fan or you are simply interested in learning more about his journey, this is a fascinating film not to be missed.
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