THE KILMERCHANTS OF VALNESS” KILMERRIEST VAL KILMER PERFORMANCES
A Look at Our Top Ten Kilmerriest Performances by Actor Val Kilmer
By the Members of the Kilmerchants of Valness
In the last year, America witnessed a McConaissance that reached its apex when Matthew McConaughey won the Best Actor award at the Oscars for his role as real-life AIDS victim Ron Woodruff in Dallas Buyers Club. We are happy for McConaughey, but we”re ready for the next woefully underrated actor to get his day in the sun. Who should receive that long deserved praise? Our huckleberry is Val Kilmer.
Way back when he starred as Jim Morrison in Oliver Stone”s The Doors, film critic Roger Ebert said of the actor: “Val Kilmer has always had a remarkable talent, which until now has been largely overlooked.” Unfortunately, we Kilmerchants of Valness think his remarkable talent has continued, all these decades later, to be largely overlooked. We want to change that. This is our mission: to convince you that Val Kilmer is worthy of praise, to make our huckleberry your huckleberry.
It really couldn”t be more fitting that the quote “I”m your huckleberry” from the film Tombstone is probably Kilmer”s most famous line. In the 19th century, “huckleberry” was a common slang term, and in this context meant “the right man for the job.” That”s exactly what Val Kilmer is: the right man for any job. Kilmer has an almost magical ability to always be able to play to whatever a film needs from him and his character. He isn”t one of those one-note actors. Instead, like a great jazz musician, he”ll play whatever notes need be played, always locking into the melodies performed by the other contributors to the film: both cast and crew.
He”s as great at comedy as drama, as great at realism as absurdism, as great as a side player as he is as a leading man. This is why he can be so phenomenal in movies as varied as Top Secret! and Heat, Batman Forever and Pollock, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Alexander, Tombstone and Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. Whether as an absurd evil mastermind in a movie based on a ridiculous SNL skit (MacGruber) or as a charming master of disguise in a retooled remake of a British spy TV series (The Saint), whether as a Biblical figure in a faux-Disney animated musical based on scripture (The Prince of Egypt) or as a historical figure in a faux-Jaws adventure film based on supposedly real events (The Ghost and the Darkness), whether as real life prolific porn star and suspected murder accomplice John Holmes (Wonderland) or as real life drunken rock star and wannabe shaman poet Jim Morrison (The Doors), whether as a vision of Elvis in a romantic crime movie written by Quentin Tarantino (True Romance) or as a wingman in a Summer action blockbuster which Quentin Tarantino claimed was “a man”s struggle with his own homosexuality” (Top Gun), Kilmer is always our huckleberry.
Unlike our frenemies in the League of Rueful Val Kilmer Enthusiasts (whose only public member seems to be journalist Joe Queenan), we Kilmerchants of Valness are not rueful or disappointed or otherwise upset with the way Kilmer”s career has turned out. We love him because of how it has turned out, not in spite of it. We agree with Joe Queenan that Kilmer could have quite possibly “been another Brad Pitt.” But isn”t one Brad Pitt enough Brad Pitt?
We here at the Kilmerchants of Valness don”t want to envision a world with two Brad Pitts and no Val Kilmers, so we took the time to have a look at some of the truly awesome performances that have punctuated our pal Val”s long and varied career, and thus created a TOP TEN of Kilmer”s Kilmerriest Performances.
10. Chris Knight in Martha Coolidge”s Real Genius
“Released in 1985, Real Genius is a synth-driven middle finger to cold warriors, a wise-cracking PG-13 college romp about a group of Cal Tech (here: Pacific Tech) geniuses who stick it to one of their military industrial complex-colluding professors. The movie contains one of my favorite final scenes in film history: in short, a military laser, a house filling with popcorn, and Tears for Fears. Clad in his iconic “I Heart Toxic Waste” t-shirt, Val Kilmer plays Chris Knight, 1980s teenage hero par excellence, an intellectually-unparalleled slacker who would rather use the reins of the technological revolution to play practical jokes and bed women than develop missile-guiding systems to tip the scales of geopolitics. Real Genius, along with Top Secret!, was the true genesis of Val Kilmer and all his beautiful essence. Chris Knight epitomizes everything that would later manifest in the great actor”s playbook: the genial, dry sense of comic timing; the 10,000 thread count softness of his matter-of-fact elocution; and one of the most effective and resonant zany-as-sexy demeanors in cinematic history. Val turns all of his charms up to 11 here. He”s a cool live-wire strutting through the madcap, classically-80s narrative to dance-through-nuclear-winter anthems like The System”s “The Pleasure Seekers” and Don Henley”s “All She Wants to Do is Dance.” And if his performance as Chris Knight isn”t enough of a portent for you, maybe his audition for the part is. According to him, when producer and legendary insufferable crybaby Brian Grazer shook his hand on set, Kilmer responded, “I”m sorry. You look like you”re 12 years old. I like to work with men.” Now that”s real genius.” – Alex Bacha, Lifetime Kilmer Enthusiast
9. Chris Shiherlis in Michael Mann”s Heat
“Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino might have been the centerpiece performers of Micheal Mann”s star-studded 1995 heist epic Heat, but Val Kilmer made an excellent, unforgettable contribution as the Byronic hero / loyal criminal sidekick Chris Shiherlis. In a film full of complex characterizations and bittersweet relationships, Shiherlis” respective scenes with his friend and fellow master thief Neil McCauley (DeNiro) and his estranged wife Charlene (Ashley Judd) are especially poignant. Kilmer masterfully walks the line between drunkenly despondent self-loathing criminal and unwavering comrade-in-arms, all soulful eyes…perpetually-pursed lips…wait, what were we talking abou–OH YEAH! Heat elevated Val Kilmer”s star quality to new heights for his standout, compellingly complex role in a film full of them. In relation to his previous work up to that point, Heat was a well-deserved benchmark. Top Gun might have made him a star, The Doors might have earned him “serious” and “important” actor status, and Real Genius definitely confirmed that he is a rad dude, but his fantastic turn in the fantastic work of art that is Heat earned my true and enduring respect. And I mean those cheekbones, c”mon! Seriously?!” - Randall Winston, Lifetime Kilmer Enthusiast
8. Danny Parker aka Tom Van Allen in D. J. Caruso”s The Salton Sea
“The Salton Sea is a movie that not many people have seen, but the ones I know that have, absolutely love it. Val Kilmer always manages to play odd characters in such a cool and believable way, and his role in this film is no different. Here he becomes Danny Parker / Tom Van Allen, a trumpet-playing tweaker/informant. The character is such a cool guy that like the character”s friend Jimmy in the movie (played by Peter Sarsgaard), I almost got a tattoo of Danny Parker myself. Of course, though Kilmer”s character is a bit of an oddball, he”s one of the least “out there” characters in this “out there” film. There are so many wonderful, colorful, and outrageous characters here and they each play perfectly off of Kilmer”s mellow, easy-going, and sensible portrayal of a gutterpunk meth-addict turned drug informant. Playing against almost any other actor, Vincent D”Onofrio”s character Pooh-Bear would almost certainly steal the show with his insane antics like reenacting the Kennedy assassination using pigeons dressed as the former president and first lady riding in a remote control presidential motorcade, but Kilmer is a powerful presence who never gets lost in the whirlwind of crazy that swirls around him. He is our entrée into this world, our cipher. His narration in the film is almost like a spiritual leader guiding you through. He chaperones you through this dark seedy film”s twisted story involving corrupt cops, drug dealers, and fucked-up addicts, but always with an ear and eye towards comedy. There are so many hilarious scenes like the stealing of Bob Hope”s stool to sell for drug money, the visions of “plastic men,” and, of course, Pooh-Bear”s “nose squeaks.” So, if you haven”t seen this hidden gem in Kilmer”s oeuvre, TRUST ME: go see it, root for Kilmer”s character, laugh, and then secretly want to be as cool as his leatherjacket-wearing gutterpunk (hopefully without becoming a meth addict in the process).” – Kelsey Malone, Lifetime Kilmer Enthusiast
7. Madmartigan in Ron Howard”s Willow
“In the summer of 1990, I had my first Val Kilmer experience on a battered VHS copy of Ron Howard”s underrated fantasy epic Willow. I was 8 years old and his chameleonic Madmartigan introduced me to the complexity of emotion I could feel for a character. He was insulting, foolish, crass, and brave. He was a hero one moment and a scoundrel the next. He”s in a cage and then he”s in a dress. I was confused, scared, laughing, utterly swept away by Kilmer”s rogue who seemed to me realer than real, a gathering together of raucous life and endless spirit. I was a child then but nothing has changed between me and Madmartigan. Each time I watch the film–armed with full knowledge of the plot–I always experience the same triumphs and betrayals, the same dizzy appreciation, enraged and enamored in equal measure. Such is the genius of Kilmer–the first performance I ever saw of him became the definitive representation of the man in my mind.” – Dustin Illingworth, Lifetime Kilmer Enthusiast
6. Tom Kazansky aka Iceman in Tony Scott”s Top Gun
“It is a testament to Kilmer’s presence as an actor that his number 6 performance of all time (as ranked by us, the “experts”) only involves him speaking a handful of times. Kilmer plays the prodigal by-the-books naval fighter-pilot, who earned the callsign “Iceman” due to his methodical technique, unemotional approach to flying, and–who are we kidding?–his epic frosted tips. He plays the perfect foil to Tom Cruise’s wild, unpredictable, bad-boy pilot “Maverick” (a pilot Iceman calls out as dangerous). Despite being a man of few words, Kilmer’s Iceman steals the screen, his mere presence proving enough to intimidate our protagonist Maverick. Often times Ice can be seen just over Maverick’s shoulder, gritting his teeth and staring intensely. And who wouldn’t be intimidated by Iceman’s adept skills at sweaty, shirtless beach volleyball?! By the end of the film, their rivalry has, of course, turned into a begrudging respect and dare I say friendship? Ice calls out to Maverick (in the most iconic line of the film): “YOU!…You are still dangerous. You can be my wingman anytime.” Bullshit, Val. You can be mine!” – Ariana Lader, Lifetime Kilmer Enthusiast
5. Bruce Wayne aka Batman in Joel Schumacher”s Batman Forever
“When one thinks of Kilmer”s most Val-iant performances, his role as Batman in Batman Forever may not be the first that comes to mind. Batman Forever could have been a fairly forgettable mid-90s film at the tail end of the Tim Burton Batman era (which ended up being directed by Joel Schumacher instead), with Kilmer’s performance potentially overshadowed by the zany energy of the over-the-top slapstick fiend Jim Carrey (as The Riddler) or the bizarre appearance of an unusually animated Tommy Lee Jones (as Two Face) and his duality of accomplices Drew Barrymore and Debi Mazar (as Sugar and Spice, respectively). BUT NO. Teamed up with pretty-boy 90s icon Chris O’Donnell, Val delivers a Kilmer of a show as Batman / Bruce Wayne. His blond blowout paired with a black turtleneck is about as classic as it comes, and the audience is ready and waiting for Val to slip on the rubber suit and seduce Batman-obsessed psychiatrist Dr. Chase Meridian (Nicole Kidman). At his 90s playboy peak, Val is classy and sexy in his role–ridiculous as it may be to imagine that anyone could see those Val-uptuous lips and not know it was Kilmer behind the mask. Accepting the role without reading the script or knowing the director, Kilmer must have known that this was a part worthy of a “Kiss from a Rose,” worthy of that classic 90s Val, where we all wished we were the one donning skin-tight vinyl and a whip.” – Rachael Bacha, Lifetime Kilmer Enthusiast
4. Jim Morrison in Oliver Stone”s The Doors
“Even though Oliver Stone”s film The Doors carries the name of the legendary rock band, the true focus is obviously on the band”s controversial lead singer Jim Morrison. In my mind, there”s no question that Val Kilmer was the best person to bring The Doors” drunken shaman of a front man to life. Film critic Roger Ebert said it best in his review when the film was released in 1991: “He looks so uncannily like Jim Morrison that we feel this is not a case of casting, but a case of possession.” Jim Morrison quite literally seems to possess Val Kilmer and Val Kilmer then possesses the viewer (in an almost mystical way that Morrison would have probably loved). It”s a performance that is so spot on that it is nearly impossible to separate the real man from Kilmer”s portrayal of him. Even to this day, when I imagine Jim Morrison”s face, I often see Kilmer”s. Though Kilmer had a few great roles before this, The Doors was really the one that made moviegoers stand up and take notice. This is the film that earned him the acting cred that allowed him to take on his more artistic character-driven roles like his portrayal of Doc Holliday in Tombstone or Chris Shiherlis in Heat, and it is also what gave him the clout to become, for much of the 90s, a box office draw and matinee idol (with The Saint, Batman Forever, etc.). There are few Kilmer performances better than this early amazing achievement. Hell, there are few performances better than this, period. After all, it”s rare that an actor can so embody his subject that he almost literally becomes him in the mind of the viewer.” – Artie Moreno, Lifetime Kilmer Enthusiast
3. Gay Perry in Shane Black”s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
“I remember when Shane Black”s LA-noir film Kiss Kiss Bang Bang hit theaters in 2005; it was just about the time Queer Eye for the Straight Guy had reached the zenith of its pop culture consequence. It’s probably no coincidence, then, that the queer private eye Val Kilmer plays here, a guy nicknamed Gay Perry, owes less to noir standards like Philip Marlowe than he does to Carson Kressley. The turtlenecks with suits, the snarky ripostes, the sweeping blonde side part–Kilmer’s entire performance owes to a garish vision of Lt. Iceman being made over by Bravo’s Fab Five. It”s a bravura performance that reminds us of Val Kilmer”s oft overlooked comedic abilities.” – Shane Boyle, Lifetime Kilmer Enthusiast
2. Doc Holliday in George P. Cosmatos (&/or Others)”s Tombstone
“Three words. “I’m your Huckleberry.” That’s all it takes for Val Kilmer to steal the show and leave an indelible mark on pop culture. It is with this utterance that Kilmer presents arguably his best performance, and proves that he is untouchable as an actor under the right direction. (Note: the direction of this film has been heavily debated, so that gives this discussion a further kink as to who draws out the best performance in Kilmer.) It’s the actor”s undeniable willingness to simultaneously trust his director and his own instincts which allows him to showcase the often unhinged, yet subtle, madness that makes him great. It is in Tombstone that this subtlety becomes even more clear. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that Kurt Russell possibly (PROBABLY) ghost-directed the film and, as an actor himself, knew the best way to make an actor act. However, that doesn’t give enough credit to Kilmer, as he has always been able to draw out just the right amount of character to fit the needs of a film, and not, intentionally anyway, steal a film from the greater good. He allows room to breathe for the other actors and yet always subtly can force the eye in his direction. He is truly everyone’s huckleberry.” – Shea Formaneck, Lifetime Kilmer Enthusiast
1. Simon Templar aka Bruno Hautenfaust aka Thomas More aka August Christopher aka etc. etc. etc. in Phillip Noyce”s The Saint
“Friends, countrymen, Russians…if what we admire most about Val Kilmer is his ability to be our huckleberry, to take on whatever a film needs from him, there”s no greater exemplar of that Kilmerriest of abilities than his role as Simon Templar in The Saint. Is The Saint Kilmer”s best movie? Realistically, no. Is it even his best performance? Probably not. But this film and its central Kilmer performance is a personal favorite of mine, and a personal favorite of many of the other members of our ragtag group of Kilmer enthusiasts. That is part of why it took our top spot, but the main reason is because it really is Kilmer showcasing all the things he can do in one truly Kilmerry performance; it”s almost a condensation of his entire filmography into one film. In The Saint, Kilmer not only gets to work in a number of genre modes (comedy, action, romance, drama, thriller, etc.), but he also literally takes on a number of identities (each with his own personality and look and speaking style, and each performed to absolute perfection). When I think of my favorite Val Kilmer characters, sure, Doc Holliday is certainly up there, as is Gay Perry from Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, but alongside those are many of the characters his character Simon Templar plays in The Saint (characters within characters): Bruno Hautenfaust, Thomas More, August Christopher, and the unnamed old man who looks exactly like a teacher from my high school. At one point, Val Kilmer as Simon Templar as Thomas More pulls an important piece of paper out from behind the ear of Emma Russell (played by the lovely Elisabeth Shue). She asks, “How did you do that?” “Magic,” he says. By the end of the film, it”s hard not to be as mesmerized by Val as the character Emma Russell is. You wonder: “How did he do that?” The only explanation is that Val Kilmer is magic. Forever our huckleberry.” - Tyler Malone, Lifetime Kilmer Enthusiast
The members of the Kilmerchants of Valness are a group of film fans who want Val Kilmer to gain the respect he deserves. The group consists of Tyler Malone, Dustin Illingworth, Alex Bacha, Randall Winston, Shea Formaneck, Ariana Lader, Kelsey Malone, Artie Moreno, Rachael Bacha, and Shane Boyle.
In a previous incarnation, the Kilmerchants of Valness (then under the guise of the Cage-aholics Anonymous) made the PMc Mag list for the Top Ten Cagiest Nic Cage Performances.
Written and Compiled by the Members of the Kilmerchants of Valness
Design by Francesca Rimi
Images from Various Val Kilmer Films, Design by Francesca Rimi