Val Kilmer Documentary Punctures the Actor’s Bad Boy Myth

Don’t expect to see Kilmer wearing his cinematic puffed rubber suit at home, and it’s not because he left it at the dry cleaners. Footage old and new, homemade or professionally recorded, presents the Batsuit as an albatross. Heavy rests the cowl. He has to be lifted from chairs, deposited on marks, and his only identifying feature on the set of Batman Forever is a chin and bottom lip. Anyone could have been behind the mask, and the human superhero envied the subhuman villains. Kilmer comes across as quite happy Jim Carrey and Tommy Lee Jones are able to create fully formed performance art in their portrayals. But he wanted to play with those toys.

Batman Forever,” Kilmer laments, “whatever boyish excitement I had going in was crushed by the reality of the Batsuit. I realized it was just my job to show up and stand where they told me.” As the captured past footage is juxtaposed with modern sequences, we get an unfiltered glimpse of how little this has changed. The sequence of Kilmer at the Comic-Con autograph booth is wrenching. He initially didn’t want to take the part of Iceman in Top Gun because he felt it glorified the military. So many fans ask him to sign “You can be my wingman” on their souvenirs. It turns his stomach. He throws up in a garbage can and wheeled through hallways with a blanket over his head. Trouper that he is, he returns to the booth to finish out the signatures.

Kilmer blurred himself into the role of Mark Twain. There is a beautiful sequence where the actor walks through town to the beach, in full stage makeup, dressed in the signature white suit and long mustache of his character. It is extremely telling when Kilmer tells the camera it’s hard enough writing a good screenplay, much less a great one, which itself doesn’t even match what he feels he needs to bring to a script of a film version of Citizen Twain. Kilmer sold his ranch in New Mexico to finance the project. The documentary only captures some of the frustrations.

Most of the anecdotes are guarded, and all the admissions are part of a subjective narrative. Kilmer’s arc has rough edges, these tales are too smooth, and leave little room for impressionistic interpretation. Kilmer met his former wife, Joanne Whalley, when she was starring in a West End play directed by Danny Boyle, but he didn’t approach her.

“She was brilliant, and I was in town making fluff,” Kilmer concedes. It’s all about the art, even appearances. The documentary hints that Kilmer’s dedication to character did the most damage to their relationship. Wearing the same pair of leather pants for nine months could almost be on the books as probable cause for divorce in Hollywood.

Similarly, Kilmer’s Christian Science upbringing is brought up, and dropped. There is a loving but ambiguous undertone to Kilmer’s relationship with his once-rich-and-powerful father, who put his son in debt after trying to become a southern California land tycoon. But a sequence on his Swedish mother which juxtaposes a car ride he took with her when he was a child with one of being driven to her funeral speaks volumes without words.

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