What makes Val one of the best documentaries of the year? That is a bold way to start this review, right? But is it the truth, right? There are hundreds of documentaries that come out every year. Some of them are global perspectives about leaders, governments, and societies. Some of them are ambitious and bold in their experimental approach to filmmaking. Heck…sometimes I do not even realize I am watching one instead of a written narrative. Others take fun approaches to them and live based on their personality. Then you have the educational ones whose main objective is to teach people. Then you have something life Val
How can this documentary hit so hard and be so dynamic? It is about an actor (one who I honestly have never loved but appreciated his talents). But for a cinephile like me, the connection I felt to this film was unexpected. Directors Ting Poo and Leo Scott bring such a dynamic and engaging approach to this film that allows you to feel the intimacy of the story. This is an intimate experience that peers deep beyond the curtain to see who this man really is. Val Kilmer was supposed to be the next Brando. But he never made it there. Why?
What can possibly explain this career that Kilmer had? You start with a look at his early works including his star making role as Iceman in Top Gun. You see him alongside Marlon Brando in The Island of Dr. Moreau. That is where things got complicated for Kilmer. His reputation for being difficult became too impactful and his career never really reached higher than Top Gun, The Doors, and Heat. This film gives a quality look through his career but there is so much more to Val than that.
What puts this Amazon documentary apart from so many other biographical documentaries. The use of Kilmer’s own footage brings an intimacy and vulnerability to the film. You see who this man really was and who he is. Those quieter moments are so wonderful and beautiful, and you really see how this man was one of the most talented and charismatic performers of his generation. The early life home videos paint the picture of his younger life as well. You can see where the roots of his passions come from including his close and creative relationship with his late brother. There are also great emotional moments including the old videos with his brother and the sweet interactions you see with his son. Seeing him today in such a vulnerable state is also sad yet hopeful as you see him still being himself through the pain and discomfort.
What about some of the filmmaking? There are few technical aspects that make the film standout as well. Like I mentioned before, the intimacy the film provides through footage shot by Kilmer himself over the years is impressive. He can barely speak now but his son does voiceover of Kilmer’s words which are a special little detail. The film even incorporates the collaging that Kilmer does to have a more creative dimension to the documentary.
Are you convinced yet? This film has so many dimensions to its storytelling and there are so many dimensions to this figure. Kilmer is painted in a vulnerable and meaningful light without feeling forced or artificial. Val shows the audience who this man really is, and the audience benefits from that in so many ways. In the end, this documentary feels fresh and worthwhile which means Amazon has a sure winner on their hands.