Val Kilmer film is poignant yet bittersweet, say critics

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A documentary chronicling the highs and lows of the life and career of US actor Kilmer has been described by critics as "poignant" yet "bittersweet".

Val, which has just debuted at Cannes Film Festival, features 40 years of home recordings, including him speaking with a voice box post-cancer surgery.

The home recordings capture the Top Gun star's "talent, intelligence, and gift for self-sabotage," said Variety.

Kilmer has also starred in Batman Forever and The Doors.

He will reprise his role as Iceman this autumn in Top Gun: Maverick.

Variety's Owen Gleiberman wrote: "He was onto the whole obsession with self-recording ahead of everyone else; he kept a video camera running at home, on movie sets, wherever he was."

"What makes Val a good and heartfelt movie, rather than just some glorified movie-star-as-trashed-parody-of-himself piece of reality-show exploitation, is that Kilmer brings the film an incredible sense of self-awareness."

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As well as horsing around in his trailer while filming movies like Top Gun, and joking with fellow stars like Sean Penn and Kevin Bacon, the Amazon Studios film also shows the 61-year-old opening up about his painful and expensive divorce from UK actress Joanne Whalley.

He also spoke about how losing his brother – who died in a hot tub during an epileptic seizure – had left him "raw with grief" aged just 17.

'Emotional power'

The Hollywood Reporter noted how the feature "delves into his voluminous personal film and video archives and follows him in a third act shaped by loss, resilience and reinvention."

"In the film's most affecting device, Kilmer's words are also heard in voiceover, read by his son, Jack, whose voice contains an unmistakable echo of his Dad's," said Sheri Linden.

"This is heightened by scenes of affectionate silliness between Kilmer and Jack and between him and his daughter, Mercedes. Everyone is playing for the camera, but there's no denying their mutual adoration."

She added that it was a "fitting for a portrait of a man who is driven to make art, however he can".

image copyrightEPAimage captionVal Kilmer's children Mercedes and Jack, alongside filmmakers Leo Scott, and Ting Poo at Cannes on Tuesday

The Telegraph gave the movie four stars, labelling it as a "poignant, highly personal portrait of Hollywood's most notorious perfectionist".

"Illness has robbed Val Kilmer of his voice," noted Tim Robey . "But this moving documentary, compiled from decades-old home videos, gives it back."

He added: "The film flatters Kilmer quite a lot by omission; you trade that in for its general candour and intimacy."

The documentary shows a clash between Kilmer and director John Frankenheimer on the set of another film, The Island of Dr Moreau, which was not considered a box office success.

At times, Kilmer is reduced to a shadow of his former self, signing autographs at conventions.

'Victories and defeats'

Screen Daily called Val a "personal, bittersweet documentary" that tries to "make sense of this enigma known as Val Kilmer".

"Now 61 and recovering from throat cancer, he's in a reflective mood, and directors Leo Scott and Ting Poo let their subject tell his own story, resulting in a film that's partly illuminating, sometimes self-indulgent and often quite touching," said Tim Grierson.

He added: "But if Val occasionally feels unfocused, that's perhaps apt for Kilmer's mindset as he grapples with fatherhood, his bygone years as a Hollywood leading man and mortality. (He swears he feels better than he sounds, but watching him take a break at Comic-Con to throw up suggests otherwise."

Deadline reviewer Pete Hammond remarked how the film had essentially been 60 years in the making.

"Val is an exhilarating, honest and raw look at the life of an actor, this actor, with all the trials and tribulations that go with a 40-year career in front of audiences," he wrote. "The victories and defeats, the will to carry on despite being dealt a devastating blow for any performer, especially one who finally achieved a dream on getting back on stage with [the one-man play] Mark Twain.

"Ultimately this is a very rewarding look at a life, with cinematography by, of course, Val Kilmer."

Val will appear on the Amazon Prime video streaming service on 6 August.

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