Five Times We Loved America’s True Sweetheart, Val Kilmer

Published on April 23, 2020

Val Kilmer isn’t just an actor; he’s a goddamn American icon. He was Jim Morrison, he was Doc Holliday, he was Iceman, and he was also a pretty decent Batman all things considered. The man is also one of the stars of one the all-timer crime films, Heat. Kilmer’s mug and talents have been a welcomed part of pop culture ever since the 1980s when he went head-to-head with Tom Cruise in Top Gun and cracked us all up in Top Secret! and Real Genius.

Lately, Kilmer’s name has been in the news as he’s promoting a new memoir, “I’m Your Huckleberry,” and discussing his battle with throat cancer. We wish the already iconic actor nothing but the best. 

We got nothing but love for Kilmer at Grit Daily, which is why we wanted to look at five performances of his we appreciate. Now, we can go on all day about his work in Heat, Tombstone, True Romance, and his beautiful performance in a fairly solid crime film called The Salton Sea, but we want to talk about our love for some of his more undersung performances, although nobody could ever call his performance in The Doors undersung. We can’t talk about Kilmer without talking about Jim Morrison, though. They’re one of the same now.

Alexander (2004)

Few people talk about Alexander as anything but a disaster. In reality, it’s a three and a half hour sloppy feast of visual ecstasy and messy storytelling. It’s not a disaster, but similar to Alexander, Oliver Stone’s epic falls beneath the weight of its own lofty ambitions. If there’s one performance that pops in the movie, though, it’s Kilmer. He basically reprises his role as Jim Morrison while playing Philip II of Macedon. 

During the king’s drunken introduction, the king laughs and stumbles around almost exactly like The Doors frontman. Listen to that hearty laugh closely — it’s all Morrison. They are cut from the same cloth.

When Philip isn’t acting like a complete monster, Kilmer either hams it up as the king or shares genuinely intimate moments with his son, Alexander. There’s always something to be said for an actor who comes out of a notable misfire looking great. It’s a true movie star talent.

The Doors (1991)

Even people who have a strong dislike for Oliver Stone’s trippy, fittingly self-serious and downright ludicrous biopic admit Kilmer is magic in the role of Jim Morrison. He plays him so close to the man we heard on the records and saw in clips and yet never comes off as an impersonation. Kilmer just is Jim Morrison.

How the actor got the mannerisms, the attitude, vocals down without looking like a buffoon is miraculous. Few actors, even the ones who’ve won Oscars for playing legendary musicians, have achieved what Kilmer did with Morrison. It’s uncanny and a performance that will stand the test of time. 

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)

Man oh man, where to begin with Kilmer’s performance in Shane Black’s directorial debut? Kilmer oozes charisma in this movie as a more than capable LA detective, known as “Gay Perry.” He’s probably the coolest, most masculine, nuanced, and funny LGBTQ characters of the 21st Century, if not ever. Just a fantastic character. 

No matter how much Kilmer’s character beats up on or belittles Robert Downey Jr.’s dimwitted thief, you love him. Kilmer hasn’t ever been funnier than he is in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, which is saying a lot considering the man starred in one of the all-time great spoofs, Top Secret! 

It’s a shame we never got sequels to Kiss Kis Bang Bang because few movie star pairings nowadays are as charismatic as Downey and Downey together. On film, they often come across as the sharpest guys in the room, so what a perfect duo for Black’s airtight silver-tongued script. 

MacGruber (2010)

It’d be a crime against humanity if we didn’t mention MacGruber, in which Kilmer dives into the deep end in this brilliant piece of comedy. He knows how to play the part of Dieter Van Cunth just right. Villains in action movies, especially action-comedies, are tricky. Too funny and they’re not menacing enough. Not funny enough and they kill the momentum of the comedy. Kilmer, being the pro that he is, strikes the perfect balance between menace and outlandishness. He got the tone of this movie completely and helped elevate it to its now glorious cult status. 

Spartan (2004)

A movie more people in the world simply need to see. David Mamet’s thriller crackles from the start. Who better to help give it more intensity than an imposing Kilmer? From his first scene alone as a high-ranking secret service agent, Kilmer exudes authority and command. As enjoyable as Mamet’s dialogue is coming out of Kilmer’s mouth, it’s his physicality that demands attention in Spartan. Even when he’s silent, Kilmer is just such a force of nature on screen, especially in Spartan. It’s a killer movie with one of Kilmer’s most accomplished performances. He breathes such intense humanity and intensity into Mamet’s stoic hero.

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Jack Giroux is a Staff Writer at Grit Daily. Based in Los Angeles, he is an entertainment journalist who's previously written for Thrillist, Slash Film, Film School Rejects, and The Film Stage.

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