PAUL WALKER : MAYBE TOO FAST DEFINITELY TOO SHORT

 

This past Sunday, November 30th 2013 around 3:30pm PST, tragedy struck when Paul Walker and his friend, Rodger Rodas (the driver), were killed in a horrific car accident. Tributes and condolences have been poured out through social networking sites, newspapers and on television.

The irony that he was one of the stars of a car based action franchise has not been lost on anyone, and as I feared there are some vulture like fear mongers who have tried to find a way into the story that blames the two victims themselves. They’re desperate to find proof recklessness was involved so they can somehow incorporate claims that The Fast and The Furious series influences dangerous behaviour. It’s believed they may have been going a little too fast but not at high octane speed. Generally it seems to be just a devastatingly unfortunate accident that nobody could have prevented.

Paul Walker will likely not go down as one of the greats in his field, but the sheer magnitude of heartfelt loss expressed by fans and peers demonstrates that, while no Daniel Day Lewis, this man entertained millions and millions of people (probably millions more than Mr Lewis) – and to have the ability to entertain such a vast array of audiences is a wonderful gift. It’s easy to under estimate the impact an actor like Walker has had on the world. I admit I was a bit surprised to see how many people revered him, saying he’s one of their favourite actors in the world and there will never be another like him.

I respect Walker and he’s been in some super films (as well as some bad ones) but I’ve never held him up as a mega talent. But a significant proportion of people don’t regularly go to the movies to be dragged into the mire of human degradation with a scintillating performance that echoes man’s indecipherable complexities. They go to be taken to a fantasy world: ones where good guys survive outrageous odds, perform incredible feats, make us laugh, allow us to lust over them and compensate for the lack of justice, excitement and sex in our own lives. How low brow some of you may feel, but even someone who claims to only watch Serbian black and white movies about the spaces between spaces that focuses on close-ups of ice, probably fell in love with movies through watching the kind of films Paul Walker populates. And on those days when life seems more for enduring than enjoying, let’s be honest, you’re more likely to want to watch Fast Five than Amour.

The Fast and The Furious series vary in quality but all are very enjoyable. The latest two, Fast Five (ridiculously it was titled Fast and Furious 5: Rio Heist on these shores which is nowhere near as slick) and Fast and Furious 6 (originally titled Furious 6, which again would have been a slicker option) are two of the best films made in the last three years. There will be sceptics out there and I totally understand; while I liked the first three films (Tokyo Drift is the only one in the series not featuring Walker) I wasn’t blown away and I hadn’t even seen the fourth one when number five came along. The wealth of surprised critics claiming it to be the best in the series by switching genre and providing essentially wacky races in live action, spurned me on to watch it and I was simply enamoured.

There is such joyful silliness in every frame and the car chase sequences are breath-taking; the skill in their execution is unmatched currently. I was in such awe my jaw sunk down to be level with my knees. To me the biggest attraction is the action but the combined box office of the franchise is close to 2.5 billion dollars, demonstrating that the ensemble plays a big part in its success because that’s an impossibly large haul to acquire on a film where the stars have no value. There’s no denying the draw of Vin Diesel and the even bigger draw of Dwayne Johnson, but these two bulging, bald behemoths need the spunk, good looks, charm and gentle charisma of Walker to make the franchise truly attractive. He’s probably the character with whom most people can relate as he is the human aspect that makes the movies accessible alongside his larger than life counterparts.

Fast and Furious 7 is only about three quarters of the way through its filming schedule, but Universal have announced that they intend to finish and release the film. I do not envy the tricky position they are in; killing off a character that has actually died in the very circumstances in which the film revels has a strong whiff of the inappropriate. But from everything I’ve read about Paul Walker’s nature he sounds like the kind of man who would hate to let down his fans, and it would be a damn shame for him if such a popular series, likely his film legacy, ended on the lasting note of morbidity. He brought joy and escapism, so we should embrace the next chapter rather than denounce the moguls for continuing with it. Going back to the possible accusations that life reflected art in a terrible way; I certainly don’t believe a film so knowingly crazy and over the top should be considered responsible or a threat to others. Unless incredibly insensitive decisions are made (I guess we may all disagree on those parameters), let’s allow the franchise to live in its fantasy world and not keep tying it to the brutal real world.

I’ve spoken at length about Walker being a purveyor of fun. But there is rumour that the forthcoming Hours, about Hurricane Katrina, might just show us that this actor had a lot more depth to his talent than we realized. One of its producers, Paul Presburger, has this to say: “He was looking for something to showcase his acting skills, which he so rarely had the chance to do. He hit it out of the park." At only forty there was every chance he could have suddenly surprised us all with one of those scintillating performances that echo man’s indecipherable complexities. I recently watched Running Scared, a brilliant, dirty little thriller from 2006 that shows Walker in a different light with a hint of the possible layers he might have mined if given the right characters more often. Farewell Paul Walker and thank you for the many hours of joy and inspiration your films have given me and will continue to give. I didn’t realize just how many hours until now.

WORDS: ALASTAIR COLLINSON

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