Whether he's taking on real-world icons, or crafting wholly original characters, when he's on his game, Val Kilmer is a talent to be reckoned with. He's been in Westerns, thrillers, crime-dramas, and even comedies (thought I love it, REAL GENIUS only gets this mention), and has played everyone from gunslingers to fallen porn stars. And then there's my love for him as Madmartigan in Willow, but that's another article altogether. Val's in theaters currently as arch-villain Dieter von Cunth (insert joke, right?) in SNL sketch-cum-feature-length movie MACGRUBER, which I have yet to see, so in honor of his return to the big screen, here's some of the more memorable slices of his career, and, since I like him so much, and because I make the rules, he gets five performances instead of my customary four.
I think Kilmer's under-appreciated in this film, and that may be largely due to the more salacious details surrounding its reception. Some feel it's too schlocky, while fans of The Doors find the film overall to be a bit too slanted to Ray Manzarek's version of things and therefore factually inaccurate. But that doesn't take anything away from the performance Val gives us as Jim Morrison, the poet/provocateur behind one of rock's enduring iconic bands. Maybe it's because of his amazing physical resemblance to the real Morrison, or maybe it's just that he's so damned good in making a sympathetic figure out of a man who was by all accounts a bit off-putting. Morrison had issues with his audiences, constantly clashed with indecency enforcers and there were a lot of mind-altering drugs in use - the brilliant Indian in the desert sequence where all the members of the band are tripping balls was hilariously parodied in WAYNE'S WORLD 2. Stone's film may be imperfect, but Kilmer's spot-on.
Shane Black's brilliant buddy action-comedy/noir/Hollywood tale was actually the rebirth of both the careers of Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer (who's gone on to have tons of work since, most of it very good and overlooked), though for some reason Downey's the one everyone paid attention to. Still, Kilmer's turn as the gay P.I. hired to show Downey's actor-impersonating criminal, Harry Lockhart, the ropes in the trade to prep him for a role is where the real money's out. His constant state of incredulity at Lockhart's behavior is hysterical by itself, and really drives a lot of the best reaction moments from Downey. This is a great movie and has two of my favorite actors at the top of their games.
This is probably his most popular and impersonated performance, but Kilmer's Southern-gent take on the iconic, tubercular sidekick and friend to Wyatt Earp still remains top-notch interpretive acting work. At once comical and deadly, Doc Holliday is a thrilling character in George P. Cosmatos's blockbuster, action-centric take on the story of the Earps and the legendary status they achieved in the town of Tombstone. With amazing delivery on some of the best trash-talking dialogue in screen history, like "I'm your huckleberry" and "You're a daisy if you do" when taunting Johnny Ringo (a great Michael Biehn) about his threat to kill him in a gunfight, Kilmer's performance goes into instant legendary territory. Is there a person alive who doesn't at least like Doc Holliday in this movie?
In David Mamet's 2004 masterpiece (one of several, it should be noted), Kilmer plays Army Ranger Scott (maybe, though he's more black-ops off-the-radar than that, and even hints that he may not be a Ranger after all), who's given the task of tracking down the kidnapped daughter of the President. The film's filled to the brim with the traditionally Mametian double- and triple-crosses, enough twists and turns to effectively fill an album full of '60s car crash tunes, and an ensemble cast that's to die for (Ed O'Neil, William H. Macy, Derek Luke, and Kristen Bell). This was the first major film role that Kilmer had had in quite some time, and it undoubtedly led to him getting further prominent work. As Scott, he's all quiet and troubled subtlety - a man searching for the truth in a sea of corruption that Mamet has a field day with. The scenes between him and the Secret Service agent who was assigned to protect the daughter are especially moving, and Kilmer conveys the exact mood that overcomes Scott and compels him to complete his mission, swimming through all the muck and bullshit and beaurocracy to find the missing girl.
As part of Neil McCauley's heist crew, Chris Shiherlis is a man of principle who is truly in love with his wife, Charlene, but who faces marital problems due to a gambling addiction that continues to fuel his dependence on the criminal life. With long blonde hair, Kilmer portrays Shiherlis as a no-nonsense professional, and at the end of the film when forced to leave his wife behind so he can go on the run and attempt to get free of the ever-tightening noose of the police, it's devastating. "For me the sun rises and sets with her," he says in the film, and it's especially evident in his face as he realizes that he has to go, and that she can't come with him. HEAT is every bit the modern crime epic that it's said to be, though I think some people actually underrate it just a bit. Kilmer's just one of many great performances, and it's arguably the last truly great film Michael Mann made.