Aug 13, 2021

A super doc about a fascinating star. Included with Prime.


You infrequently see as honest a documentary as “Val,” a life of Val Kilmer (Batman, Jim Morrison, et al.). In fact, because it is largely made up of his 40 years of self-videotaping, it has the feel of one of the most authentic autobiographies ever made. With his voice and his son, Jack’s, it feels as if we are in his living room as they play the highlights of his glamorous career.

Although I was pleased with Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain in its analysis of celebrity, Val crushes that doc with Kilmer’s honest assessments of his life and his career without seemingly embellishing it or shaping it favorably. Bourdain’s life has charm and a surface truth, but Val feels like Kilmer has let us into his soul for long enough to see a talented artist ceaselessly trying to interpret his chaotic world.

Although in his mature years he has suffered the loss of his voice from a procedure on his trachea for throat cancer, I can’t find a word of bitterness that he has to stop his career and plug the hole in a voice box to talk, albeit scratchy and taking a while to get used to. He remains in his 60’s searching the secrets of life, the best being honesty and love. Those are the two words to describe him and this doc.

For the more detail-desiring cinephiles less sentimental than I, this doc is full of off-camera insights: his longing to play Morrison and then his giving up his months’ guitar practice to airplay the role, his confession that he couldn’t act or move in that imprisoning Batman suit, his disappointment at the disastrous film The Island of Dr. Moreau and missing his chance to get close to his idol, Marlon Brando, his bonding as Iceman with Cruise, and so much more.

The footage of him arguing with director John Frankenheimer defines not so much Val’s reputation for being difficult but rather his striving for perfection—A Juilliard grad, not a god.

Throughout this personal portrait of a star who fell from grace from bad choices (Willow, anyone?) and his own arrogance, Val Kilmer appreciates the gifts life has given him and its disappointments from which he becomes one of the most self-aware documentarians in his profession.

Val is a doc to be savored, and now that it is streaming on Prime, to be seen more than once. It’s that good.


Directors: Ting Poo, Leo Scott

Screenplay: Documentary

Cast: Val Kilmer (Top Gun), et al.

Run Time: 1h 49m

Rating: R

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at