That little jeer! When I hear Val Kilmer’s name, I always think of when ‘Ice,’ his character in “Top Gun,” snaps his teeth at a surprised Maverick (Tom Cruise). That image is burned in my brain. It could be because, with the serious actor that Val Kilmer is, he created a backstory for the presence of his almost non-existent character.
By doing this, he breathed life into it, yet he accidentally generated rivalries among the cast members, as well. He’s brilliant. Watch him in ‘Tombstone’ for one of the more significant examples of that.
You’ll see where and how that brilliance came to be as you watch this documentary, created chiefly by him himself. Val has been documenting his life by capturing almost every moment of it on video. He has thousands of hours of footage. There are also home movies made by Val and his brothers Wesley and Mark.
It’s with them that his love of acting first emerges. It also earned him entrance into Juilliard as the youngest ever accepted into the drama school. One of my favorite quotes from the film is when he says, “If you believe in something enough, it becomes real.” However, while his life was moving forward in New York, a tragedy strikes back home. His fifteen-year-old Epileptic brother Wesley, the director and artist in the family, drowns due to an accident that their father never forgives himself for. It rained out when Kilmer heard of his brother’s passing. He tells us, ‘The sky wept,’ and admits that his confidant had disappeared. The brothers were very close.
“Val,” the documentary, is based on the written portrait of his life, narrated by Kilmer’s son Jack, and directed by Ting Poo and Leo Scott. Jack sounds just like Val when he was young. The narration is necessary because Val was stricken with throat cancer, which he beat, but is now forced to breathe through a plastic tube in his throat. Val plugs a tiny hole with his finger to speak. His voice isn’t always easily understood, so subtitles are used when he talks in case they are needed.
He tells us about his first big break on stage in New York where, in 1983, he was cast as the lead in the play ‘Slab Boys.’ As we learn of this time in his life, we’re given several behind-the-scenes (BTS) shots to watch that the film’s subject recorded himself. This goes on throughout the film. One thing he captures is a very young Sean Penn and Kevin Bacon mooning him. Boys will be boys. Each of these young actors takes the role Kilmer is slotted to play. He wasn’t happy about it happening, but he saw that he’d have to work hard to get where he wanted to be, so he buckled down. No excuses.
Whether he understood them or liked them, he took good roles to keep them coming in. He made audition tapes for directors he desperately wanted to work with and for films with which he longed to star. This tactic worked when his video was watched by the producers of ‘The Doors.’ This section of the doc is incredibly insightful. We dive deep into the truth of Val, how he works and what many of his personal beliefs are.
Kilmer allows his directors all-access, hiding nothing from them. We’re shown what he goes through at signings because of his love for his fans, for whom he wouldn’t be able to continue without. What he does to give his audience characters they’ll cherish forever is phenomenal. Wait until you hear how his Doc Holliday in ‘Tombstone’ reached critical impact.
He explains his issues with shooting ‘Batman Forever,’ a character he has loved since childhood. We then see and hear BTS footage of what transpired during the filming of his next movie, ‘The Island of Dr. Moreau.’ It’s during the making of this film that his entire personal life changed.
I can’t tell you about everything you’ll find in the documentary. You’ll enjoy discovering it all as you watch. The film is as much about who Val is now as it is about who he was then. His limitations have given him a get-up-and-go attitude toward the future. It has also given him the drive to move beyond who he thought himself to be and reinvent Val, expressing himself through his art as his brother once did. This documentary is moving. There are many reasons why this is, so don’t miss it. And don’t miss what you see by watching all the way through to the end of the credits.
*Streaming on Amazon Prime on Aug 6, 2021
Directed by: Ting Poo, Leo Scott
Featuring: Jack Kilmer, Val Kilmer
Produced by: Brad Koepenick, Val Kilmer, Jordan Wynn, Dane Lillegard, Andrew Fried
Rated: R *for language
Runtime: 1h 49m
Genre: Documentary, Biography