Review: Val

By Christian DiMartino

Val Kilmer seems like an interesting topic for a documentary. Here is a guy who isn’t a hero (though he has played some) and hasn’t been an important figure (though he was one in Hollywood for a while). But in the new excellent documentary Val, now streaming on Amazon Prime, we see a man that we immediately connect with. Many of us haven’t experienced what Kilmer has experienced, and in some ways we would want to, and in others, we wouldn’t. Yet the film grounds us in his reality for a little under two hours, and by the end of it, they certainly do make a solid case as to why he has his own film.

After seeing Val, a new respect has really formed for him. Here is a guy I’ve never disliked, yet I have mocked. In terms of the mocking though, Val is that kind of documentary that makes you level with a celebrity, like the great Amy Winehouse documentary Amy. It taps into what a celebrity status is as a whole, in terms of what the public makes of a certain person and the judgement that comes with it. It also taps into the fact that, while these people may seem larger than life due to the amount of money they have, they are no less human.

In terms of mocking Val Kilmer… yeah, I’d probably be cancelled for this. See, growing up, I watching nothing more than Batman Forever. I always watched it for Jim Carrey, who I would marry if he’d just ask. However, there is no denying just how hot Kilmer is in that though. Like Nicole Kidman’s Chase Meridian (great name), I would happily jump on top of his rubber body… but anyways. As years went on Val Kilmer would occasionally show up to movies and I’d mock him for being overweight. Which is unfair because not only is he older, not only is being overweight not an issue, not only was I myself fat… but Kilmer was undergoing cancer. Therefore, I’m awful, and I’m sorry.

The guilt especially sunk in watching Val, which cuts to the core of Val Kilmer in many ways. The film is essentially told from Kilmer’s point of view, through his own home movies and archive footage. Kilmer, who contracted throat cancer a few years back, is almost unable to speak, but is able to speak by holding down on a tube in his throat when he speaks. The film follows pretty much every aspect of his life, from his early life to his acting career. To his acting career missteps to his attempt at a comeback, to ultimately, his biggest battle of all: throat cancer.

Part of what makes Val Kilmer a fascinating subject for a documentary is the way that, despite his suffering and health scares, we very much get the sense that the Val Kilmer we know is still in there. As we see from recent footage, the man still has a lot of comedic energy. A lot of energy in general, if we’re being honest, in the way that he is very much an artist who longs to keep working. That’s just kind of the tragic truth of Val though. The film depicts a spirit so lively and free, yet fate has happened to get in his way at every turn, but he never loses sight of who he is.

It seems like every documentary I see and fall for never even ends up with an Academy Award nomination. Val is certainly worthy, in the way that it tells the unlikeliest of stories and both warms our hearts and breaks them, and sometimes all at once. The footage is great, and honestly, Kilmer is pretty great too. He at least deserved a nomination for The Doors, and honestly, I’ve missed out on a lot of his recent roles, as I’m sure a lot of people did. It’s easy to imagine that most people would go for this film, in the way that it not only fascinates in the moment, but sneaks up on you in ways that you’d least expect.

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