[Review] A24’s superb doc ‘VAL’ chronicles the life and times of Val Kilmer with swooning poetry

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James Clay// Film Critic

VAL

Rated R, 108 minutes.
Director: Ting Poo, Leo Scott
Cast: Val Kilmer, Jack Kilmer

Laughing, crying, and loving is at the center of the A24/Amazon co-production VAL about the life and times of Hollywood actor Val Kilmer. It’s no coincidence that these emotions make life worth living to the actor who has since been sidelined from his craft by a vocal strain caused by throat cancer. Yet Kilmer’s film isn’t defined by this humbling, nor is it a hagiographic look at his halcyon days when the world screamed for the attention of the man once called Iceman and Batman.

Told through personal diaries, video, and missives, the film directed by Ting Poo and Leo Scott lets Val tell his story in his own words. The directors uncover for the audience a man just like any other who reflects on their passions, failures, and intense love. Also, how losing a family member can reshape your entire life. VAL works as a piece of Hollywood history and a document for those interested in taking a hard look into the mirror. The best documentaries offer an authenticity that appears to be effortless, a form, or style that personifies its subject while being entertaining to its audience. Poo and Scott frame Kilmer in his image, a stubborn, fiery creative looking to “play” with equally talented professionals.

The story starts from Kilmer’s own strange and fascinating upbringing by a land baron father, his two brothers, and a mother who ended up finding a second wind in life. As Val chronicles his life, things weren’t always easy growing up, and even during fame, being a good son and brother came naturally for Kilmer. However, as we get closer personally and professionally to Kilmer, we discover that intense love for his work became his worst enemy. He never had complete control over the roles he was offered and accepted, some were good, and others were bad. We even see unseen audition tapes Kilmer cut for films like FULL METAL JACKET and GOODFELLAS.

Kilmer, at this point, has lost his vanity. Still, while dropping the ego, he became much more emotionally available, and it shows in many moments throughout the film that cue the waterworks on more than one occasion. By the end of Val’s story, we see a profoundly silly side to the actor whose now the signature look is a fitted basketball cap, shaggy locks, big sneakers, and love for life that probably didn’t exist in his pursuit for creative perfection.

VAL is a beautiful film about fathers, sons, and a slight reveal at the film that brings his whole life together in a moment of unity. That’s the most beautiful thing I’ve personally seen captured on camera this year. The one thing Val knows we will all run out of is time, and that is more precious than any moment between action and cut.

VAL is being released on Amazon Prime on August 6th.

About author

James C. Clay

James Cole Clay has been working as a film critic for the better part of a decade covering new releases, blu ray reviews and the occasional drive-in cult classic. His writing is dedicated to discovering social politics through diverse voices, primarily focusing on Women In Film and LGBTQ cinema.