Val Kilmer in Amazon Studios' "Val."

Val Kilmer in Amazon Studios' "Val." Credit: Amazon Studios


WHERE Streaming on Amazon Prime

WHAT IT'S ABOUT The actor Val Kilmer tells his story in "Val," a documentary by Leo Scott and Ting Poo with narration scripted by the subject himself and read by his son Jack.

The film incorporates an abundance of home movies shot over the years, including scenes from Kilmer's childhood, backstage footage on sets ranging from "Top Gun" to "Tombstone," his wedding day and intimate moments with Jack and daughter Mercedes.

These are mixed with a portrait of the movie star in the present, where we see him greeting fans at Comic-Con and other stops on the nostalgia circuit, while carving out a path forward despite the fact that his voice is impaired after a battle with throat cancer that led to a tracheostomy.

MY SAY There's plenty to recommend in "Val" for the generation-plus of moviegoers with strong memories of the ways in which Kilmer's chameleon-like intensity could transform even an ordinary movie into something worthwhile.

The actor charts his journey from his childhood living on Roy Rogers' former movie ranch in the San Fernando Valley through Juilliard and the A-list. There's footage of a dance party with Tom Cruise during the "Top Gun" segment, and of the famous meltdown on the set of "The Island of Dr. Moreau," wherein Marlon Brandon, swinging in a hammock, asks Kilmer to "give me a shove."

But the retro appeal speaks for itself and underplays what makes "Val" stand out.

"Sometimes I feel so low and I have the blues really really hard," Kilmer says during a particularly difficult moment, just after introducing an outdoor screening of "Tombstone" in Texas.

"I don't look great," he continues, "and I'm selling basically my old self, my old career," staying lodged in the past rather than looking toward the future.

Onscreen and in the distance, we see the larger-than-life star we once knew in his Doc Holliday get-up, twirling poker chips in close-up in the Western classic.

The present-day Kilmer walks slowly toward the screen in the foreground and the tenor of the confessional shifts: "But it enables me to meet my fans," he says, "and what ends up happening is I feel really grateful rather than humiliated because there's so many people."

This sequence encapsulates the essence of what makes this documentary special, into something more than a highlight reel for a career that has defied conventional wisdom from the moment Kilmer burst onto the screen.

It presents an actor reckoning not only with the imprint left upon him by embodying everyone from Jim Morrison in "The Doors" to the Dark Knight himself in "Batman Forever" over the course of nearly four decades in show business, but with how to reconstitute one of his most difficult and traumatic moments into a period of freedom and liberation rather than darkness.

BOTTOM LINE Val Kilmer fans won't want to miss this movie, but this story is really for anyone trying to find a way forward after a devastating setback.

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