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Review: 'Val' (2021) Dirs. Leo Scott & Ting Poo

Val Kilmer, Jack Kilmer


With six decades of home-video to go through, behind the scenes clips and interviews from a decorated film career, the personal highs and lows of actor Val Kilmer now come to light...

Val Kilmer is no stranger to the camera, behind or in front. Charting a life through home-videos, self-made audition tapes, interviews, behind the scenes shots or simply his blockbuster films, the footage is all here for an eye-opening documentary by the man himself.

Narrated by son Jack but in Val's own words, he opens up about his life and career, and the highs and lows along the way. With so many millions of fans both aware of his personal troubles and his on-screen success, it's time for the man himself to tell the story.

But this is not a story about opening up harsh memories or buried demons; it's about looking back and reflecting on the choices made that now echo in the present, and celebrating a career full of passion, love and life well lived that shows no signs of slowing down...

There's no denying it. Seeing and hearing Val Kilmer talking through his voice box due the gruelling chemotherapy is heartbreaking. It's difficult to understand his words, but not hard to understand his passion and joy in sharing some personal experiences. For that reason, his son Jack narrates this poingnant and open documentary via his ows words. But four years cancer free and still going strong for both his family and his career is nothing short of admirable and awe-inspiring.

Recreating Jaws with young brothers Wesley and Mark was the indicator that Kilmer wanted to be a star. Not just a star - an actor. He showcases a love for performing, for imagination and for being a character. Kudos to Kilmer for wanting to chart his life on tape - for what reason? Who knows. It can't be that he envisioned wanting to stream a documentary about his life nearly 40 years later...or was it?

This isn't a dark and scandalous documentary; it's an analysis of a career and life by the man himself to explore how a journey can last decades all to shape the present.

Everything captured is real and honest and a wonderful look back for Kilmer, his family and friends into what made the man he is today and the journey he made. Who wouldn't want to capture such memories to share one day. Kilmer even returns to some old haunts in the documentary to accompany what he captures on video so his story makes sense and has real relevance.

We have early 80s goofing around from young theatre stars Kilmer, Kevin Bacon and Sean Penn making their early break to stardom. We are taken into Hollywood with career defining roles in films like Top Gun, Willow and Heat. All through these moments, his video camera is recording and he shares never before seen shots around the production with many familiar faces popping up.

A fascinating example of this frank look at his career is Kilmer sharing experiences on Batman Forever and how the suit isolated him in terms of not being able to move well, or to hear. And as the commercial success was there, Kilmer felt he was simply there as a supporting role to the big-names of Tommy Lee Jones and Jim Carrey, with little room to act. He couldn't even face returning for a sequel.

"All children want to be Batman. They don't necessarily want to play him in a movie."

This level of heart-breaking honesty fuels the documentary, and it's absorbing stuff for film fans.

But this isn't just a showcase of movie clips and BTS shots. It's an analysis of the journey Kilmer was making in a very intense industry; how did the industry operate and what were the pressures faced on these actors who would soon make headway over the next few decades. How did studios and critics treat the stars who could make or break their career? When do you stop giving yourself to fans and conventions before thinking of your own wellbeing and health? Thanks to these home movies, we see a very raw, eye-opening and real glimpse into the industry and movies we know and love, and a life we knew little about.

From looking at family tragedy, to getting together to celebrate Christmas and his wedding to Joanne Whalley, to his crippling health issues, there is little left unearthed here about Val Kilmer. It adds a new dimension to the man seen on screen and an eye-opening glimpse into a fascinating life about a man who wanted to be nothing but an actor, all put together in a very coherent and easy to watch format by directors Leo Scott and Ting Poo.

As real as it gets from an actor who has suffered many highs and lows, but still powers on with undeniable passion for his art. Honest, heartwarming and interesting to say the least.

'Val' is a co-production between A24, Boardwalk Pictures and Cartel Films

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