Have you ever been forced to sit through someone else’s home movies or videos? I’m not talking about someone related to you, which might keep you interested. I’m talking about someone you don’t know at all.
That’s what “Val,” a documentary about Val Kilmer, is like.
Kilmer shot thousands of hours of footage of himself and anyone around him from childhood right up to the present day — so many that he keeps the reels and videos in a large warehouse. That’s what directors Ting Poo and Leo Scott had to dig through to create this look at Kilmer’s sixty-odd years, and the product is proof that not everything that happens in someone’s day-to-day life is captivating. Just as one example, there was no need to make viewers sit through his school plays and acting classes, where nothing compelling takes place (even at Juilliard).
There are clips from some of the movies Kilmer appeared in, accompanied by some behind-the-scenes footage he shot. So, we get to see him clowning around in his trailer with Rick Rossovich, Tim Robbins, and Barry Tubb (but not Tom Cruise) while on breaks from shooting “Top Gun.” We see footage of Kilmer recording himself as Jim Morrison, which served as his successful audition reel for director Oliver Stone’s “The Doors.” We also see his auditions for movies he wasn’t cast in, like “Full Metal Jacket” and “Goodfellas.”
Kilmer goes to great lengths to explain how difficult it was to act in the suit he had to wear as star of “Batman Forever,” and his realization that he didn’t really have to do much because Tommy Lee Jones, Jim Carrey, and Nicole Kidman were stealing the movie right out from under him with outsized performances. He disliked the experience so much he refused to reprise the role, so the documentary shows him moving on instead to work with Robert De Niro and Al Pacino in “Heat.”
The biggest problem with “Val” is his story is told unilaterally. There are no third-party interviews. None of his co-stars offer commentary, nor does anyone else. The only narration we hear is done by Kilmer’s son, Jack, reading in the first person as Val, whose voice was ruined by throat cancer. We also hear Val himself, holding a finger over the hole in his neck so he can speak in a voice so gravelly and hard to understand his words are subtitled.
That’s part of the sadness of “Val,” which also touches on the deaths of his brother and mother, his divorce from Joanne Whalley, and the autograph shows he attended — despite being ill — to try to drum up a few dollars because he was on the brink of financial ruin. There’s also a scene in which he’s invited to a big outdoor screening of “Tombstone,” in which he played Doc Holliday. Kilmer got up in front of hundreds of attendees to say hello and thank them for coming, but then we see him walk away, depressed, without watching the movie with them.
If you’re a really big Val Kilmer fan, you might find “Val” valuable. But if you’re not, if you only know him from a few roles and don’t want to learn about the mess behind his movie star façade, don’t waste your time.
I give “Val” a 4 out of 10. Opens today in St. Louis theaters, then begins streaming on Amazon Prime Video on August 6th.