by John Larkin
The most surprising thing about VAL, the new self portrait documentary of actor Val Kilmer, is not how much he has deteriorated physically since his throat cancer treatment - he now has to plug his finger into a hole in this throat in order to speak - but how active he was as a home movie recorder and archivist throughout his life. The film is almost entirely made up of Val Kilmer's own self recorded home videos starting with 8mm film when he was a kid and then evolving to video tape. The eclectic mix of footage and how it intercuts with Val Kilmer today gives the doc a kind of experimental performance art feel. Appropriate for someone as artsy as we learn Kilmer to be.
Val Kilmer's son Jack narrates what would have been Val's own voiceover. Not surprisingly Jack sounds identical to what Val Kilmer sounded like his in twenties. For anyone who's a film lover this doc is such a treat just for the fact that we get to see home movie footage from a handful of Kilmer's projects that have never been shown before. Among these are TOP GUN, TOMBSTONE and even the infamous THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU, a film who's making of story is so baffling that it spawned its own documentary: LOST SOUL: THE DOOMED JOURNEY OF RICHARD STANLEY'S ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU. We even get to see his self made audition tapes for roles he never landed in FULL METAL JACKET and GOODFELLAS. All of the footage is presented to us as a personal reflection on Kilmer's life and career. The death of his brother Wesley at a young age had a huge psychological effect on him and his entire family and his grief for him hangs over the entire film like a sad memory.
I was relieved to see him acknowledge his reputation as difficult to work with towards the end of the film by presenting us with a montage of different people commenting on his notorious on set reputation. Kilmer doesn't do much to defend himself from those claims other than to proclaim himself a "perfectionist."
His final work as an actor before he was diagnosed with throat cancer was a touring one man show as MARK TWAIN. One night before a performance he started coughing up blood and had to be rushed to the hospital.
While acting is pretty much behind him, he now spends a lot of his time painting, designing various kinds of art work and even playing practical jokes! (You'll have to watch to make sense of that one).
I always liked Val Kilmer as an actor, but had assumed he was uninteresting as a person. I realize now just how wrong my assumption was. VAL will likely go down as one of my favorite documentaries of the year. I highly recommend fans of any of his films to check it out, I guarantee there will be at least one aspect of it that will make you glad you saw it.