Val Kilmer — haggard and roughed up by cancer but spiritually persistent as far as it goes. He was Mr. Hot Shit in the Reagan, Poppy Bush and Clinton eras (Top Gun, Batman Forever, The Doors, Tombstone, Heat, The Saint), but now he’s the semi-tragic star and cinematographer of Val. I saw this absorbing, dig-down portrait of the 61 year-old actor and onetime superstar yesterday afternoon, and for a while I didn’t know what to think except “uhm, well…”

Be honest — it’s a melancholy sit.

Edited by Leo Scott and Ting Poo, Val is all catch-as-catch-can video footage — stuff that Kilmer shot over the last 40 years, ’80s and ’90s VHS and onward into digital and 1080p. Some of it is just faces and moments and time-grabs, and some of it is steady and gentle and poignant, and after a while it gets you…it’s a serious doc about a serious, intense guy…haunting, intimate and often (how could it not be?) quite sad at times.

“I think of myself as a sensitive, intelligent human being with the soul of a clown…”

You can sense that whomever and whatever Kilmer might have been when he was young and pugnacious and humming with hormones in the ’80s and ’90s, age and cancer have definitely taken him aside and whispered in his ear “time to turn that shit off, bruh…those chapters are over.”

Kilmer has not only modified what and who he is inside but age and disease have molded him into a different physical being — he now looks a bit like Will Sampson from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest only older and grayer. Imagine if Cary Grant had aged into William Hickey in Prizzi’s Honor or Oskar Homolka — it’s on that level.

And everyone had to wonder why Kilmer didn’t show up in Cannes a week or two ago for the Val premiere. It was easily the biggest moment of his life and career this century, and yet for some reason…

You know what Val tells you? I’ll tell you what Val tells you. It tells you that when you grow older, life does not fuck around. Especially when cancer comes along and says “hey man…are you ready for some serious shit in your life? Because I’m about to fuck you up but good.”

There were four…no, five standout moments for me. But before I mention them I should share an opinion, which is that Val would have been a better package if it had devoted, say, 35% or 40% of its running time to professional-grade video interviews with, say, eight or ten talking heads — friends, colleagues, agents, producers, journalists…people with a little perspective outside of KilmerDome.

For me the five most affecting moments are (a) Kilmer arguing with director John Frankenheimer on the set of Island of Dr. Moreau (“Will you turn the video camera off, please?”), (b) Kilmer sitting by a fireplace and cutting off hunks of his long hair with a knife (this was the one sequence that made me think of getting up and leaving), (c) Kilmer and his son Jack dressed in mid ’60s Batman and Robin costumes, (d) a weary Kilmer telling an assistant that he needs to take a break from autograph-signing and fan-greeting, due to some physical ailment, and (e) Kilmer driving through his childhood neighborhood of Chatsworth and muttering “this place is hell…pure hell…I hate it.” (Or words to that effect.)

Paraphrasing a line from a 5.6.20 Taffy Brodesser Akner N.Y. Times piece about Kilmer: We still need to believe that all our efforts weren’t for nothing, that we could — we will — survive a dark moment in our history and that when that happens, we won’t be left without the things that made those moments decipherable and meaningful and therefore tolerable.”

Repeating: what Val finally tells you is that life doesn’t fuck around.