Review: Intimate 'Val' lets Val Kilmer tell his own story

Told through home movies and his son's narration, "Val" looks at the life of the 61-year-old star.

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

"My name is Val Kilmer," the voice says, but it's not Val Kilmer speaking. It's his son, Jack, who narrates "Val," the deeply moving and profoundly intimate documentary about the enigmatic actor and movie star. 

Val Kilmer no longer sounds like you remember him sounding, and he no longer looks like you remember him looking. After a bout with throat cancer, he lost his voice and now speaks in a raspy croak with the assistance of a tracheostomy tube. And his chiseled face and gorgeous features, rendered iconic in films like "Top Gun," are now saggy and droopy, and his long hair is often hidden underneath crooked baseball caps.  

Val Kilmer in "Val."

But he has a story to tell, and "Val" opens him up through his own lens. He was an early adopter to the video camera, carting it along with him wherever he went through the course of his career, so he has his own self-shot footage from the sets of "Top Secret," "Top Gun," "The Doors," "Batman Forever," "Heat," "The Island of Dr. Moreau" and "The Saint," the run of films that brought him up and back down Hollywood's ladder in the 1980s and '90s. 

"Val" lets him tell his own story, with his son's soft voiceover adding both a profound layer of warmth and impermanence to the proceedings. He talks about the death of his brother at an early age, his conflicted relationship with his father, the early days of his career when he studied at Juilliard and was taking a backseat to Sean Penn and Kevin Bacon, and his struggles with what he deemed imperfection on big, star driven Hollywood blockbusters. (Val famously walked away from the "Batman" franchise after donning the cape just once, in 1995's "Batman Forever.") 

Is Val a "difficult" actor, as he's been branded? Quite likely, and that subject is breached, but this isn't the gossipy tell-all that lets others color in the story of his life for him. These are his stories and his words, even if he can't speak them himself. Both heartbreaking and life-affirming, "Val" paints a unique portrait of a unique talent. It couldn't have happened any other way.




Rated R: for some language

Running time: 108 minutes

In theaters, on Amazon Prime Video Aug. 6