VAL. Kilmer Forever [REVIEW]

After all, everyone dreams of “being” Batman and not just dressing up as him in a movie.

Maciej Niedźwiedzki

16 September 2023

Iceman in Top Gun, Chris Shiherlis in Heat, Jim Morrison in The Doors, Doc Holliday in Tombstone, Madmartigan in Willow, Bruce Wayne in Batman Forever. In his portfolio, collaborations with Oliver Stone, Ron Howard, Joel Schumacher, Tony Scott, Michael Mann. Everyone has encountered Val Kilmer at some point, and each person remembers him in their own way. It’s a big name, a brightly shining star of 80s and 90s cinema. Another heartthrob reminiscent of Elvis Presley, but also a screen personality. A documentary showcasing his acting career full of hits and his journey to the top, however, wouldn’t have the appropriate impact. It’s not the past that attracts directors Ting Poo and Leo Scott to the biography of the American, but rather current matters.

Val Kilmer had to withdraw and focus on the fight for his life. Throat cancer struck him unexpectedly. Chemotherapy and treatment nearly robbed him of his voice, forcing him to take a different path and change his habits. These events serve as the pretext and focal point for the entire documentary.

The first half of Val’s life, however, has a retrospective character. His family history with his parents’ divorce, his brother’s tragic death from epilepsy, his parents’ divorce, and difficult relationships with his father. Each of these experiences causes pain and leaves indelible marks in his memory, but in a way, they also strengthen him and allow him to see life from a different perspective. Faith is also extremely important for the documentary’s protagonist. It serves as his existential reference point, allowing him to go through every setback, tragedy, or failure with intriguing calmness. None of them can completely break him.

The family history is the first narrative axis of Poo and Scott’s film. Recovery and getting back to health are the second important structural components of the documentary. The third, most deeply explored, is an examination of the entire film industry, the actor’s generation, a look behind the scenes, and clashes with directors and instructors. This part of the documentary provides many insightful quotes and observations, not necessarily relevant to the American actor’s biography but having an exceptionally universal nature. Thanks to this, “The Val Kilmer Case” can be widely understood. It’s more than an exhaustive Wikipedia entry. Val is meant to be a universal reference point.

This is determined by unobtrusive aphorisms and insightful wisdom spoken with calmness. In one of the comments about the beginning of Kilmer’s career, he admits that there are no small roles, only small actors. This was his reaction after being pushed further and further into the background in one of the films. For Val, even a few minutes on screen and three lines of dialogue were a chance to make a name for himself and move up. Yes, this is indeed motivational cinema. In another segment, he recalls working with his idols: Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, or Marlon Brando. Kilmer worked his whole life to achieve the same status, but in reality, he was closest to them when greeting them on set. An interesting counterpoint to this is when Kilmer admits that he never played the roles he dreamed of. He doesn’t regret box office hits and international successes, but numerous financial obligations (loans, supporting his family) often forced him to prioritize the amount on the paycheck as an actor. Several other artistic failures (failed auditions for Boys Don’t Cry or Full Metal Jacket) only confirm his belief that he could never feel professionally fulfilled.

One of the more significant points may be the reflection on his role in Batman Forever. After the commercial success of Schumacher’s film, Kilmer was immediately offered to reprise his role as Bruce Wayne. The creators then juxtapose Val Kilmer’s home recording, playing with his son dressed as Batman, with shots from the production itself from 1995. Kilmer rejected the offer without hesitation. After all, everyone dreams of “being” Batman, not just pretending to be him in a movie. Fortunately or unfortunately, individual judgment will likely determine to what extent this is sensible, depressing, uplifting, sensible, or crazy.

Maciej Niedźwiedzki

Maciej Niedźwiedzki

Cinema took a long time to give us its greatest masterpiece, which is Brokeback Mountain. However, I would take the Toy Story series with me to a deserted island. I pay the most attention to animations and the festival in Cannes. There is only one art that can match cinema: football.

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