Amazon's Documentary 'Val' Wants to Change the Way You Think About Val Kilmer

The 'Top Gun' and 'Heat' actor turns the camera on himself in this intimate portrait of his thwarted ambitions.

Amazon Studios
Amazon Studios
Amazon Studios

Like many celebrities, Val Kilmer wants to set the record straight. Last year, he published I’m Your Huckleberry, a memoir that chronicles his life as a young actor at Juilliard and his experience filming cinematic touchstones like Real Genius, Top Gun, Willow, The Doors, Batman Forever, and Heat. As part of the promotional rollout for the book, he was interviewed for revealing, widely-shared profiles in The New York Times Magazine and Men’s Health, which chronicled his battle with throat cancer and detailed his recent creative pursuits. Now, Amazon has released Val, an A24-produced documentary that toggles between behind-the-scenes footage Kilmer captured as a rambunctious young star and scenes of him moving through the world as a much older man who now speaks through a voice box that only functions if he holds a finger over a tube on his throat.

With its emphasis on the craft of acting and the pursuit of artistic excellence, Val self-consciously serves as a corrective to the years of Kilmer being described in the press as “difficult” or “erratic.” His on-set disagreements with directors like John Frankenheimer (The Island of Dr. Moreau) and Joel Schumacher (Batman Forever) are legendary. “I don’t like Val Kilmer, I don’t like his work ethic, and I don’t want to be associated with him ever again,” said Frankenheimer in a 1996 Entertainment Weekly article. Schumacher, in one of his final interviews before his death in 2020, called Kilmer “psychotic.” Val makes the case for Kilmer being, if not misunderstood, a more complicated figure than the headlines and the controversies would suggest.

ALSO READ: Our guide to the Best Movies on Amazon Prime Right Now

Amazon Studios
Amazon Studios
Amazon Studios

As a young actor, Kilmer was unapologetically ambitious. In one of the most charming early parts of the film, directors Leo Scott and Ting Poo show clips from audition tapes that Kilmer shot for projects like Full Metal Jacket and Goodfellas. He flew to England to deliver the tape to Kubrick himself, but did not get the role. Though he broke out with roles in comedies like 1984’s Top Secret! and 1985’s Real Genius, Kilmer remains most commonly associated with his appearance as the ego-driven Iceman in 1986’s Top Gun, the intimidating pretty boy flip side to Tom Cruise’s more virtuous Maverick. (He’ll have a role in the sequel Top Gun: Maverick when it arrives in theaters in November.) In ’90s movies like Tombstone, The Doors, and Heat, he got to show off his range, trying on different hairstyles and voices. For a moment, he was one of the most exciting actors in the world. But, looking back at his filmography, there’s a nagging sense that he could have accomplished more.

Depending on your fondness for Kilmer, Val will either be tremendously poignant or mildly frustrating. So much of contemporary pop culture, particularly comedies like Barry, Extras, or Entourage (which Kilmer appeared on), approaches acting from a defensive satiric crouch. The skill involved is often diminished and the desire for fame is placed at the center; discussions of intent or method are framed as indulgent. Val is a tremendously earnest movie, one that attempts to tell a story about “truth and illusion” in the most intimate way possible, recruiting Kilmer’s son Jack to read his father’s own words and taking you into Kilmer’s daily life. The image of Kilmer needing to take a break from signing Top Gun posters at a convention because he has to throw up in a bucket is harrowing. Footage of him deciding to sell acres of land in New Mexico is less compelling.

Kilmer takes his work seriously, but, as the documentary displays, he also has a playfulness about himself and his image. The clips from his recent stage show about Mark Twain, the moments where he’s joking with his children, and the bits of him fooling around with his Top Gun costars all show a performer who thrives on collaboration, whether it’s with an audience or just his fellow actors. At the same time, the bits of Kilmer arguing with Frankenheimer on set, which are presented in a slightly removed manner, or spraying silly string at people also make him seem genuinely annoying, like the type of stubborn person who just doesn’t know when to quit.

In its collage-like approach, pinging between the past and the present, the film can also feel jumbled or incomplete at times, pushing a performance of vulnerability instead of offering up genuine insight or candor. Still, like the fascinating figure at its center, the movie admirably never stops searching for answers.

ALSO READ: What’s New on Amazon Prime This MonthWant more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTwitterPinterestYouTubeTikTok, and Snapchat.

Dan Jackson is a senior staff writer at Thrillist Entertainment. He’s on Twitter @danielvjackson.


Where to Celebrate Lunar New Year 2023 in Australia

And what it means to be in the year of the Rabbit.

where to celebrate lunar new year australia

Starting with the new moon on Sunday, January 22, this Lunar New Year ushers in the year of the Rabbit. We’ve put together a guide on celebrating the Lunar New Year in Australia.

What is special about the year of the Rabbit?

As you might know, each year has an animal sign in the Chinese Zodiac, which is based on the moon and has a 12-year cycle. This year, we celebrate the year of the rabbit, known to be the luckiest out of all twelve animals. It symbolises mercy, elegance, and beauty.

What celebrations are taking place and how can I get involved?

There are plenty of festivals happening all around the country which you can get involved with. Here they are per state.

New South Wales

Darling Harbour Fireworks
When: Every year, Sydney puts on a fireworks show, and this year, you can catch it on January 28 and February 4 at 9 pm in Darling Harbour.

Dragon Boat Races
When: Witness three days of dragon boat races and entertainment on Cockle Bay to usher in the Lunar New Year. The races will commence on January 27 and finish on January 29.

Lion Dances
When: Catch a traditional Lion Dance moving to the beat of a vigorous drum bringing good luck and fortune for the Lunar New Year. The dance performances will happen across Darling Harbour on Saturday, January 21, Sunday, January 22, and Sunday, February 4 and 5, around 6 pm and 9 pm.

Lunar New Year at Cirrus Dining
When: Barangaroo’s waterfront seafood restaurant, Cirrus, is celebrating the Year of the Rabbit with a special feast menu. Cirrus’ LNY menu is $128pp with optional wine pairing and is available from Saturday, January 21, to Sunday, February 5.

Auntie Philter
When: Hello Auntie’s owner and executive chef, Cuong Nguyen will be dishing out some of the most classic Vietnamese street foods with his mum, Linda. All of Philter’s favourites will be on offer, as well as Raspberry Pash Beer Slushies and other cocktails being served at the Philter Brewing rooftop bar on Sunday, January 22 and Sunday, January 29.


Lunar New Year Festival
When: Ring in the Lunar New Year with food, music, arts, and more on Sunday, January 22, from 10 am to 9 pm.

Lunar New Year at the National Gallery of Victoria
When: Celebrate the year of the rabbit at the National Gallery of Victoria’s festival of art, food, and art-making activities for everyone from 10 am-5 pm.


BriAsia Festival
When: From February 1-19, Brisbane will come alive with performances, including lion dances and martial arts displays. There will be street food, workshops, comedy and more.

South Australia

Chinatown Adelaide Street Party
When: Adelaide is set to hose a fun-filled day celebrating the Chinese New Year on Saturday, January 28, from 12 pm to 9 pm.

Western Australia

Crown Perth
When: Across January and February, Crown Perth hosts free live entertainment, including colourful lion dances, roving mascots, and drumming performances. The restaurants will also throw banquets and menus dedicated to the Lunar New Year.

Get the latest from Thrillist Australia delivered straight to your inbox, subscribe here.


Our Best Stories, Delivered Daily
The best decision you'll make all day.