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Remembering Paul Walker: 5 Of His Best Performances

by Drew Taylor
December 2, 2013 2:06 PM
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Over the weekend actor Paul Walker, best known for his role in Universal's ongoing "Fast and Furious" franchise, died tragically in a car accident in California. The actor was in the midst of filming the seventh film in the series, with every intention of continuing. As Bilge Ebiri pointed out over at Vulture, the series was originally designed as a vehicle for Walker, based on the actor's experience working with original director Rob Cohen on the marginal collegiate thriller "The Skulls." Even after his death it's easy to be glib about his skills as an actor, but Walker turned in a handful of memorable performances both within and outside of the 'Fast' franchise.

Walker was handsome. This is an undeniable fact, as much as water is wet and the sky is blue. But he was more than that too, capable of nuance and shading in roles that usually required neither. And he left behind a small bounty of performances and films that are easily re-watchable and highly volatile. It seems like Hollywood never quite knew what to make of Paul Walker, and Paul Walker didn't quite know what to make of Hollywood, and out of this, somehow, one of the biggest franchises in recent memory was formed.

But we wanted to take the opportunity to look back at five of Walker's very best performances, films that we (and many others) will be revisiting following his tragic demise. 

"Pleasantville" (1998)
Most audiences got their first look at Walker in Gary Ross's whimsical comedic drama that starred Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon as a pair of ultra-modern teens beamed magically into a stale '50s-era sitcom. It was a perfect part for Walker: he played a goofy, amiable teen whose eyes are awoken by Witherspoon's sexual know-how and intellectual curiosity. The role exhibited Walker's aw-shucks charms and genuinely movie star-ish good looks but it also betrayed a steeliness underneath and a willingness to plumb even the simplest roles for dark undercurrents of sinister zeal. (This fearlessness would serve him well later in his career, which we will get to in just a moment). There's something to be said about how Walker totally inhabited a role that, in the hands of a different, less gifted actor, would have otherwise been a two-dimensional cartoon. In a movie that was primarily filmed in black-and-white, Walker gave it lots of color.

"The Fast and the Furious" (2001)
This was it. Whether he liked it or not, Walker had somehow found himself anchoring a decade+ running franchise, which began with his "The Skulls" director Cohen making him a pitch for a movie that would kind of be like "Point Break," except with really fast cars instead of surfing and skydiving. Ultimately, his growly, charismatic costar Vin Diesel would be more closely associated with the franchise, but Universal initially placed more emphasis on Walker. When Diesel balked at returning for the sequel, a second film was designed around Walker. And looking back on those initial movies, it's easy to see why: yes, the handsomeness is there, as is the goofy, wide-eyed, "gee shucks" attitude that's involved when any ordinary person enters a highly specific, somewhat otherworldly scenario like underground street racing. But there's also a brittle kind of edge, apparent especially in "2 Fast 2 Furious" and "Fast Five," wherein Walker just seems annoyed to be there, stuck in a seemingly endless franchise he was totally unaware would require such longstanding commitment and time. If another actor carried a similar attitude, it would probably be off-putting, but with Walker it just added to the character's charm. His Brian O'Conner went from being a lawman to a wanted outlaw, and Walker's inherent wholesomeness made it seem like he was fighting that urge to go bad just as much as his character.

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  • Neny Costa | February 27, 2014 11:35 PMReply

    I'm sure Paul is in a good place in heaven, God knew his heart and knew of their feelings, Jesus now has a new Angel to lead your Legion. God bless you my brother, stay in peace!

  • Neny Costa | February 27, 2014 11:02 PMReply

    Se bem que ele não estava nem ai pro glamour de Hollywood,não fazia o jogo deles,o que importava era sua família,seus amigos.Um grande cara de um coração incrível.Rest in peace Bro.

  • Neny Costa | February 27, 2014 10:52 PMReply

    I'm sure Paul is in a good place in heaven, God knew his heart and knew of their feelings, Jesus now has a new Angel to lead your Legion. God bless you my brother, stay in peace!

  • traian b | January 27, 2014 11:43 AMReply

    I don't know why nobody talks about the role he made in "Eight Bellow". This movie is heartbreaking and heartwarming. Paul is a dog lover and this shows in the movie. Jerry Sheppard facing the possible loss of his dog team, the helplessness he felt for not being able to get to the dogs who he'd promised to be back to! The fear they might be dead when he finally reaches back. I felt everything he wanted to transmit. I first saw Paul Walker in this movie. Paul Walker was brilliant in "Running Scared", also he acted gorgeous in "The life and death of Bobby Z". In "Hours", which I saw yesterday night, Paul Walker excelled, he showed again he's a real actor, not only handsome, but also a very talented guy. "Joy Ride" was also one of my favorite. I intent to see all his movies. Anyway, all that I've already seen sent him to my top favorite actors ever. And after hearing about his acts of generosity in real life (revealed after his disappearance) I understood how much the world lost when losing him. He was a beautiful man and person, inside and outside. Hopefully we'll meet on the "other side"...

  • Carla | December 13, 2013 1:30 PMReply

    Paul was the city of ngel's best kept secret. I'm Proud to say I been following him for years and he has always been my absolute favorite. He was not a sell out. He was real and genuine. There aren't actors like that anymore. He was able to keep his family out of the public eye . He was exactly where he needed to be. I dont think he would have wanted all fame that comes with Hollywood . He was famous enough to be recognized and made enough money to have an impact all over the world helping just about everyone his fingers could reach. To his family he was a son,brother , father and to his fans he was "The Paul Walker" and to the people he helped all over the world he was an angel. He impacted so many in so many different ways. I think he was , to put it simply"special" there will never be another PW rest in eternity you beautiful soul

  • Steven Ball | December 10, 2013 6:08 PMReply

    One film Paul Walker made rarely gets mentioned because no one has ever seen it. It went straight to DVD The Death and Life of Bobby Z (2007) co-starring Lawrence Fishburne & Olivia Wilde. It is definitely worth a rental.

  • John | December 10, 2013 1:23 PMReply

    I watched the Christmas themed movie NOEL recently. Walker co-stars with Penelope Cruz, Susan Sarandon, and Alan Arkin. It was a bit corny but watchable. It made me wonder why Paul wasn't a bigger star. He photographs so beautifully and he's got a likeable screen persona.

  • Legend | December 4, 2013 2:25 PMReply

    R.I.P Paul Walker - he will be greatly missed and never forgotten.

    He was the only reason why I watched the Fast and the Furious franchise and after his death I watched Running Scared and he performance in that movie was totally brilliant. I've heard that in HOURS he gives an awesome performance and might be Oscar worthy, hopefully it is and he is indeed recognized for it. So much talent now gone.. Real shame!

  • MOVIE EXPERT | December 2, 2013 8:32 PMReply

    'HOURS' is by all accounts his best performance

  • Pope | December 2, 2013 6:25 PMReply

    This piece beams with appreciation. It was a pleasure to read. I knew I wasn't the only one who thought "Joy Ride" was underrated.

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