I have not seen a documentary quite like this before.
Val is the story of the life and career of actor Val Kilmer, from his early life until present day where he had recovered from throat cancer.
However, this documentary is remarkable not just because of the drama brought to the story by the lifetime of choices made by Val Kilmer, or the struggle to return to his health after losing his voice. What makes this so remarkable is the use of decades worth of home videos recorded by Kilmer himself. It reminded me of those found footage movies where you see scenes that someone is carrying a video camera around and recording everything. This is what Val Kilmer had done and he had compiled thousands of hours of footage that the documentary intertwined with footage of his current state.
It is a poignant look at an actor who had been considered a problem to work with or a troublemaker for years. Rumors and speculation of Val Kilmer being difficult to work with dogged him for much of his career in movies. You can see why some may have thought that in the footage he has recorded, but you can also see the drive and the desire to create something of which he could be proud.
Some of his early life was influenced by his brother Wesley, whom was described by Val as being remarkably creative and energetic. Wesley would be making short films and drawing. Val had said that Wesley was the talented one in their family. Wesley died when he was 16 years old, having an epileptic seizure while in the family jacuzzi, causing him to drown. The loss of his brother impacted Val’s life and career for decades.
The film documented Kilmer’s thoughts and his work on several of his classic roles including Batman, Iceman in Top Gun, the stage play he had written about Mark Twain, Doors lead man Jim Morrison, Doc Holliday in Tombstone among others. Some of the most fascinating clips included his time on one of the worst movies ever made, The Island of Dr. Moreau, where he shows an argument with the second director, John Frankenheimer, over his recording the rehearsal on his own camera. There is also an amazing piece including Marlon Brando swinging in a hammock. I have a feeling that there is a whole movie that could be made about the making of The Island of Dr. Moreau.
We get a look at Val’s family life and how his career in front of the camera really strained his relationship. Truthfully, the material on Val’s health issues are kept at a minimum. It is dealt with but it is not a focus of the film. It is a part that has been compartmentalized in his life story.
The film is narrated by a voice that sounds very much like Val Kilmer’s prior to his battle with cancer. The narration spoke as if it was in the voice of Val Kilmer and it did sound like him. It turned out that the voice was his son Jack, who does a marvelous job.
Val does a really great job in showing us Val Kilmer and where his life has led him. It is a life of both pride and depression. Pain and joy. Accomplishment and challenges. Val paints a portrait of an actor whose reputation exceeded reality, but that colored his life.