For reasons that escape me Val Kilmer has been on my mind the past couple weeks. This is a really weird thing to say, I know, but call it some residual effects of watching MacGruber (2010) opening night, his performance has just hung with me that long. So, basically for no reason at all today we're talking Val. Well, it IS the five-year anniversary of the French Release of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005). That's excuse enough.
Now the way I figure it, our buddy Val's got about three major phases. In the mid-80s he was this sort of playboy sexy comedy and action star. Then he's got this big streak from the start of the 90s to the mid-2000s full of heady dramatic roles with some consistent action here and there. Then of course, ever since 2006 we've been in the middle of Val Kilmer's Fat Period, which to be honest, is my personal favourite. Let's dive in.
1980s: The Stud Muffin Years
Val burst onto the scene in the mid-80s with two great sexy comedy action films with "Top" in the title: Top Secret! (1984) and Top Gun (1986). Top Secret! was his first film role, a pretty funny one that he actually really never returned to. He was able to play this young dumb guy pretty well though, continuing to morph into the brash Iceman in Top Gun. Providing the blonde oily counterpart to Tommy, that film wouldn't be the same without Val's constant asshole presence. He provided a tradition in his filmic roles here, doing just enough to accomplish what the film needs from him without overstaying his welcome or selling himself short. He's got this edge with understandable justification lying underneath. He's much more interesting to watch than Tommy. And that's not just because he's taller and oilier.
1990s to mid-2000s: Moody Actor
These are Val's peak years and it starts with his second greatest role, Jim Morrison in The Doors (1991). His commitment to the character is staggering, especially nailing Jim's distinctive voice. Reportedly Val sent Oliver Stone recordings of Doors songs, some sung by Val, some by Jim and asked Oliver to pick out who was who. After Oliver gave his picks Val revealed that the entire tape was himself singing. Crazy shit right. From what could have been a very easily portrayed story Val elevates the character with a youthful mystery, arrogance and tortuous character flaws that keep us intrigued. I mean, c'mon, it's The Doors. Who else could have pulled off that combination of hack, genius, poet and sociopath that was Jim Fucking Morrison? Greatest Rock N Roll Band of all time, man. The Doors also sets a standard of Val being exceptional in films that aren't necessarily that good.
From there he's got bit but important roles alongside some great actors in True Romance (1993) and Heat (1995) as well as a poignant turn in Thunderheart (1992). Throughout all these he emits this coolness along with some vulnerability. He's always a tough guy that retains a nervousness behind his eyes. His leading roles during this small time period are highly underrated. Also during this time we have what I consider his best role, Doc Holliday in Tombstone (1993).
Tombstone, by the way, is far better than Wyatt Earp (1994) and Val is the best part. His soothes in and out of Doc effortlessly, pulling everything he can out a thick Georgian Accent that doesn't seem flawed or forced. He's ruthless but loyal but more importantly, always cool and confident, even when suffering from Tuberculosis and 36-hour Poker Matches.
His last really notable 90s flick is the much maligned Batman Forever (1995), which is a complete Affront to God and Heaven, but I'll contend that Val was actually a decent Batman. It's extremely hard to extract Val's performance out of incompetent direction, writing, set design and horrendously hammy acting all around him. Take a gander at a fan-made Darker Cut and see for yourself. Val portrays Bruce Wayne as a much more flawed, insecure man fighting for his own redemption as well as the world around him. He's also able to play intellectual far superior to George Clooney or Christian Bale (maybe not Michael Keaton). It's tough to find a Batman that has all of these characteristics, the neurosis, the Righteous Rage, the darkness and the detective. Kilmer comes close to nailing, I would have loved to see him in a good film.
Okay, so this trend continues through the early 2000s. Beyond a similar repressed intellectual in Red Planet (2000) he has two magnificent underseen roles in Salton Sea (2002) and Spartan (2004). He comes and goes in Alexander (2004) then returns to a hilariously good role in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Besides Alexander, these are all pretty fantastic movies (except maybe Red Planet as well actually). I think Val was largely written off from his role in a terrible Batman film as well as the growing novelty of Top Gun and controversy over possible liberties he and Oliver took during his portrayal of Jim in The Doors. Either way, these roles are solid, but his career during this point never really achieved mainstream success.
Late 2000s: Fat
It's sweet to see two washed up, now desperate great actors from the 90s banter with each other in Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call: New Orleans (2009). Nic is off the fucking deep end here but Val is ready to jump off right behind him. He plays fat, corrupted and nihilistic pretty well. There's only two major scenes with him and The Cage, at the first he balances Nic by providing much more sanity, by the end he actually balances him by being much more crazy. It's a cool dynamic to watch.
Finally, we have this post's inspiration for some reason, MacGruber. Val is back in comedy, completely hamming it up to ridiculous effect. It's become pretty entertaining to see the dude who once took his craft very seriously, portraying an assortment of subtly nuanced characters just go balls out as a dude named Dieter Van Cunth. His fat period is in full effect and if he uses this to as great extent as his oily sexy period, we haven't seen the last of Val for a long time.