The role of Doc Holliday certainly is one that requires an actor to really sink his teeth into the part. Doc Holliday by his very nature is going to be a bit of a larger than life character, despite being a very real person. Holliday not only had a medical background he as well is a fast gun, a drinker, a compulsive gambler and to top it off he is slowly dying from Tuberculosis. There just is not anything particularly subtle about this man, and Val Kilmer certainly takes a flamboyant approach to the part which makes absolute sense.
Kilmer here takes on a very particular accent that quite well used, and accentuates the history of his character fabulously. It does well in showing the cultured fellow that Holliday is, and it perfectly displays the manner in which Holliday approaches his life. Kilmer properly plays Holliday as a man who very much is aware that he will not be living particularly long. Kilmer is excellent in creating the underlying melcholia that understandably is within Holliday at all times, but this is never a depressing performance. Kilmer avoids any notion of depression through the fashion in which he portrays the way Holliday tries to get the most out what life he has left.
Kilmer takes on most scenes with a slight well placed comedic touch as he shows that even in situations of life and death Holliday tries to find some enjoyment in them. The idea of having a character who doesn’t even seem to take the most serious of situations seriously is certainly a tricky one to portray well, but Kilmer manages to handle it with a wonderful ease. Kilmer finds just the right tone for his character believable portraying his constant bemusement while still managing to bring the necessary weight to certain scenes. He never compromises any side of his character bringing all of these different emotions into one man.
Kilmer’s Doc Holliday is always entertaining, but Kilmer especially shines whenever Holliday is challenged. Kilmer absolutely commands these scenes with a quiet assurance. He does it with considerable style as he shows the way that Holliday both mentally and physically controls the situation. He is great in every one of these scenes, but his best is when he duels Johnny Ringo. Kilmer plays the scene out almost in a dance he does it all so beautifully. He unquestionably brings to life the intense, uncompromising power in the man about while handling the scene still so casually, the scene is terrific and made so by Kilmer’s brilliant performance.
The character of Doc Holliday is made the most moving part of the film through Kilmer’s portrayal, that just hits the right marks through the entirety of the film. This is a strong piece of acting by Val Kilmer, that shows a range from him which viewing some of his other performances one would probably not be aware of. He fills the part with such genuine humor, and poignancy. Kilmer completely steals not only every scene he is in, but as well the whole film. Frankly it is very likely the film would not even have worked without Kilmer’s depiction of the dying gunfighter. Doc Holliday is a larger than life character, and Kilmer manages to be the larger life character Doc should be but as well still keeps him within an appropriate reality.