Directed By Ting Poo and Leo Scott
Starring – Val Kilmer, Kevin Bacon, Marlon Brando
The Plot – Val Kilmer, one of Hollywood’s most mercurial actors, has been documenting his life and craft through film. He has amassed thousands of hours of footage, from home movies made with his brothers, to time spent in iconic roles for blockbuster films like “Top Gun” and “Batman Forever”. This raw and wildly original documentary reveals a life lived to extremes and a heart-filled look at what it means to be an artist.
Rated R for some adult language
– Thought-provokingly poignant. Aside from this being a biographical reflection on one of Hollywood’s deepest method actors, it’s a deconstruction of all things fame, and the monumental price paid for such an ambition. Dedication, existential clarity, and internal salvation help supplant one of the more rewarding and insightful films about the cinematic art form, and that doesn’t always bring with it the glitz and glamour that we associate with such an art form. In Kilmer’s case, the meaningful reasons for his decision to be an actor early on in his life that immediately overtook his drive and unyielding determination are simultaneously the reason for his many frequent downfalls involving a crumbling marriage, on-set disturbances, and occasional typecasting, to name a few. It affords the audience the kind of knowledge to debate these elements on their own without ever stepping foot in front of a camera or on-stage, and does so without condemning one for the other, instead conjuring up an honestly revealing video diary that fleshes out no shortage of vulnerability for its titular focus.
– Meaningful narration. It’s expected to hear overhead dialogue littered throughout a documentary, but it works for uniquely profound reasons when it’s Val’s own words being read by his oldest son, Jack, for an experience that is rich with synnonymity in vocal capacities. To say that Jack is an audible clone of Val’s would be putting it lightly, so instead I will say that the consistency of the tones he deposits to the feature emits a transformational quality that occasionally made me feel that the familiarity in Val’s registry was brought to life once more. Aside from this, it’s the sentimental gain that Jack himself endures while sifting through the same access of information that we the audience are receiving that undoubtedly allows him to see his father in ways that pertain to before he was a parent-first. It’s a classy touch to an otherwise overlooked element of production, and serves as a recollection of memories retold by Val’s biggest legacy, when he shuffles off of this mortal coil.
– Accessibility. Most beneficial to the integrity of the narration itself, is Kilmer’s career-spanning decision to shoot thousands of hours of behind-the-scenes footage and family memories for these often tender and occasionally humiliating circumstances. Aside from it piecing together the narrative, which would otherwise feel like a scatterbrained collection of memories from the recollection of an aging protagonist, it immerses the audience with a first-hand account of the various celebrities and Kilmer kin that weave in and out of focus, leaving nothing to the level of interpretation that far too many documentaries unfortunately become saddled with in their storytelling. The footage itself is raw and uncut from a minimal amount of editing, and the advantangeous element of seeing these big name presences creates an unpolished, untouched essence in honesty that is no longer possible during a current era with a phone camera every five feet.
– Personal art direction. Stitching together the film’s many transitions and material topics are visual storyboards made from Kilmer himself, which matches the previously mentioned narration of Kilmer’s own words to cement a unanimously psychological perception. Because of such, we discover that Val himself is an artist of sorts far beyond the limitations of the screen, pasting together paintings and scrapbooks of memories for the chapter-esque title screens that divide the film’s bountiful material with an abundance of animated color to the allure of the presentation. Aside from this, the on-screen text written in cursive by Val’s own handwriting is a unique addition to the recollections throughout the many legendary films and characters he commanded, and its use when introducing many of Hollywood’s biggest names bring with the occasionally light-hearted subtle jab that corresponds accordingly with Val’s off-beat shenanigans witnessed casually throughout the film.
– Underlining depth. The transfixing compositions from musical composer Garth Stevenson create a balance of meaning and understanding for the film’s material, that attain a level of sentimentality without feeling melodramatic for the sake of tear-inducing cinema. Because of such, we’re treated to an abundance of original piano-driven material from Garth that coherently echoes many of the film’s profound thematic impulses, all the while illustrating a layer of deep concern for the unpredictable future of a man who himself admits that his best days are behind him. In addition to the impeccable work of Stevenson, the film’s decision to involve with it tracks of familiarity from the various other films it discusses are an alluring introduction to the information of what follows, and proves that no cent was spared in playing to a presentation that values audio and video exceptionally in fleshing out the essence of these major studio properties.
– Generational talent. Part of what established Kilmer as one of the best in his field for the time, and one that the movie illustrates accordingly, is the attention to detail that brings to life some of history’s most misunderstood characters of both fictional and non-fictional rendering. In this respect, I never knew it involved Val making tapes for directors he was seeking a role from, and even occasionally flying out to hand-deliver it to them himself. Before this, however, the film does an amazing job of conveying to the audience the family ties with such a career decision that makes his investment feel anything other than spontaneous, instead establishing it as something he was born to do, if only to pay respects to the memory of his fallen younger brother. Beyond this, it’s the transformational aspects in visual and delivery for Kilmer that is most apparent in how easy he was able to disappear in these roles, especially that of Mark Twain for a stage play that I honestly didn’t even know existed until this.
– Tonally pleasing. It would be easy for this level of dramatic circumstance to wholeheartedly influence the likeability of the narrative. However, the majority of footage showcasing Kilmer and other big name co-stars in relaxed environments, as well as Val’s own charismatic charms leads to an experience that is every bit endearing as a feel-good narrative as it is dramatically profound. Both directions co-exist together wonderfully in creating a roller-coaster of a narrative that speaks volumes about the many spontaneities of life, and how they can shape or shift the aim of what was initially intended. It also echoes the many genre-varying beats of Kilmer’s own career, which initially began as a surprisingly comic-heavy actor working on stage and spoofs, before evolving to the dramatic presence that stole the show in “Tombstone”, “The Doors”, and “The Saint”, to name a few.
– Hindered storytelling. “Val” clocks in at 105 minutes of ample screen time, and while that may be enough to tell a compelling narrative, it’s simply too limited in scope to articulate the complete picture of Kilmer’s expansive story. This leads to big productions like those on “Tombstone” or “Batman Forever” receiving the insight and information needed to outline what those roles meant to him at a particular place in time, but other family matters being glossed over as footnotes in context. Obviously, the movies themselves offer the most intrigue to the audience, but it’s the pivotal people surrounding Kilmer that make the man, leaving half a shadow for the outline of a bigger picture. Some kids are barely mentioned, leaving them virtually forgettable when in contrast to others who receive entire segments. Likewise, the relationship between Kilmer and fellow actress Joanne Whalley is initially brought to light, but then lacking focus following such, until the moment when it’s absolutely needed again. It makes for a film that values film over family to a fault, and leaves “Val” feeling like half of the film that was promised in the trailer.
– Disjointed editing. Most of the production for the documentary is seamless, with the exception of the stitching for visual storytelling, with is often erratic and occasionally sloppy. Such instances revolve around sequences showing something memorable during a film, and then illustrating a similar movement in his real life, with son Jack in tow. I understand the intention was to convey art imitating life and vice versa, but it just led to several instances where the visual storytelling felt jumpy and distracted above all else, distorting it in a way that was overtly ambitious when the sequence itself I felt called for reserved and conventional. Beyond this, a few of the scenes themselves transition a bit too lazily for my taste, sifting through an overhead narration for a following scene, when the scene in the foreground hasn’t completely pursued through its full momentum yet.
My Grade: 8/10 or B+