We digest actors through the lens. We read them from the narrative that their characters dictate, and we think we understand them when they throw away their avatars to grant and interview. But the reality is that there is always a filter or an ulterior motive that prevents us from seeing beyond what they choose to show. Val (2021) demolishes paradigms and shows us an unadorned Val Kilmer, seeking to find his own voice by putting his life in perspective and building a retrospective of his career. Almost 40 years of career and more than 100 titles accompany the former Iceman, Doc Holliday, Simon Templar, Batman and even Jim Morrison himself.
From before stepping on the stage or entering a set, Val Kilmer was already documenting his life. Val exists thanks to thousands of hours of raw footage captured by Val Kilmer himself. Homemade intimate moments, rehearsals for school plays, auditions, and behind-the-scenes moments on all the sets he performed on. Faced with the impossibility of becoming the narrator of his own story, Kilmer must turn to his son to voice his thoughts and thus we embark on a journey that is divided into chapters. As we have seen on more than one occasion, reality surprises more than fiction and in the case of Kilmer his life is more impressive than any of the characters that fiction gave him.
Icon, rebel, movie star, human
Ting Poo and Leo Scott are responsible for shaping the piles of images and scattered ideas in Kilmer’s mind. Val shows us the ambitious, impetuous, and vibrant boy but also reveals the fragments of a tormented soul with deep emotional voids. Early in his career he savored success and fame came without warning. He did not have time to live the natural cycle that takes any actor through stages before reaching star status and in the blink of an eye he was already an icon.
Despite its many memorable characters, Val Kilmer’s name is rarely positioned in a privileged way in the public mind. His trade and dedication always kept him close to important projects, even though for some he was a kind of rebel. Hero by obligation and not by vocation, from Top Gun (1986) the role of antagonist was hinted at him. Fate brought him together with Oliver Stone and together they revived Jim Morrison in The Doors (1991) and in that decade he was also Bruce Wayne in Batman Forever (1995). In the acclaimed Heat (1995) Kilmer shared the scene with De Niro and Pacino and a year later he would appear alongside Marlon Brando in the ill-fated The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996).
The awards have eluded him, and the Hollywood academy has never looked around its premises. With the wisdom of the years and the calm that comes with them, Kilmer began to pursue a more personal project, but the road has taken unexpected turns and cancer has made him change the script. Val shows us a man who reflects on his life brandishing his legacy to find oxygen while justifying nostalgia by reuniting with his fans.
Val is an intense and powerful documentary in large part because of Kilmer’s boldness and bravery shown raw and uncensored, but also because of the great narrative handling and formidable editing of such extensive material. The cinema did justice to a figure that represents its purest essence. He’s your Huckleberry.