Val Kilmer Had A Hard Time Channeling The 'Vicious Violence’ Of Heat

Val Kilmer Had A Hard Time Channeling The 'Vicious Violence’ Of Heat

Val Kilmer had a bit of a reputation as a difficult actor to work with for much of his career. But if the documentary "Val" taught us anything, it's that he's a real artist with a gentle soul. The image of him adorned with his late mother's jewelry, recovering from throat cancer, creating art at his Los Angeles home directly next door to his daughter's house, is an affecting and tender one that has stayed with me since I saw the 2021 doc.

These days, the actor has had to step away from the limelight due to the illness that robbed him of his voice, health, and much of his career since 2015. Thankfully, he's starting to re-emerge, first with his cameo in "Top Gun: Maverick" and hopefully more appearances in the future. But if he never acted again, he could rest safe in the knowledge that he racked up multiple impressive performances and legendary roles in his career.

It's testament to his talent that, in many of those performances, he's completely unrecognizable as the devoted artist we saw in "Val." 1995's "Heat," for example, sees him play bank robber, gambling addict, and all-round violent criminal Chris Shiherlis. The role necessitated some nuance, with Chris maintaining a deep love for his wife Charlene (Ashley Judd) while displaying some often startling brutality. The movie's big bank heist and shootout requires Chris to knock out some guards prior to unloading his rifle at police with such deadly proficiency, director Michael Mann remarked "95% of you will not be able to fire as well as this actor." Perhaps unsurprisingly, the comparatively calm Kilmer had a bit of trouble portraying that violence when it came time to shoot.

Finding The Violent Impulse

"Heat" remains a classic, and not just because it brought Robert De Niro and Al Pacino together for the first time. Mann's crime thriller is much more nuanced and insightful than its bombastic set pieces suggest at first glance. The director infused his criminal characters with a true depth -- Mann's criminals aren't just thugs. They have intellect and emotional depth.

But that doesn't mean they lacked the addiction to their vices or the tendency towards violence that made them criminals in the first place. In Chris' case, the man doesn't hesitate to take a shot or a swing a hook when needs to, even though his involvement in the movie's main heist gets him shot, and his gambling addiction looses him any earnings he does make from his crew's robberies.

Speaking to Deadline, Kilmer reflected on trying to find a way to connect with the character's proclivity for violence:

"I am not familiar with violence. I've never hit anyone in my whole life. Not once. I've prevented some fights, but never struck a soul. So Chris was a real challenge. I had to find the actions which would trigger the impulse to be violent to the point of murder, instantly."

Ever the insightful artist, Kilmer recognized the feeling of being "cheated" by violence, due to the quickness with which it happens. That's despite the fact he had little to no experience of being a violent person himself.

Kilmer Made Chris Feel Like A Real Person

Kilmer's take on Chris is a highlight in a movie that's full of them. Like De Niro's Neil McCauley, Chris feels like a real person, full of conflict and contradiction. Much of that is down to Mann's writing, but Kilmer's comment on the way violence surprises with its suddenness, as if coming from somewhere other than the person meting it out, represents a real talent for insight. He went on to say that when he watches his performance, he "unconsciously argues" for extending the heist when the police arrive and is taken aback by how his character murders "so quickly you really are not sure what you've just seen."

It's a great performance from Kilmer in that respect. Whereas you believe McCauley when, at the start of the heist, he says "we want to hurt no one," you feel the complete opposite about Chris, who seems primed to explode at any moment. All the actors who played members of McCauley's crew in "Heat" underwent extensive training with weapons experts Andy McNab and Mick Gould to be able to use weapons convincingly, which no doubt helped Kilmer overcome some of his difficulties with the violence. Kilmer also met the real-life safe-cracker that Chris was based on, who he said reminded him of a "Viking, just seeking a noble death during battle."

While Chris isn't often cited as one of Kilmer's standout roles, his portrayal is, I think, one of the best examples of his talent. There doesn't appear to be an ounce of the real Kilmer in Chris, and that's a great achievement. Here's hoping we see more of the star in the near future. But if not, his work thus far is more than enough.

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The post Val Kilmer Had A Hard Time Channeling The 'Vicious Violence' Of Heat appeared first on /Film.

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