Paul Walker was never my favorite part of the Fast and Furious franchise.
The first Fast movie, released in 2001, was essentially a beat-for-beat remake of Kathryn Bigelow’s superior Point Break, and Walker seemed to be doing his best impression of Keanu Reeves. As the franchise went on (he appeared in every film except the third entry), Walker’s character grew on me; Brian O’Conner never changed, but under the direction of Justin Lin and the consistent screenwriting by Chris Morgan, the series as a whole changed in a big way.
Street races were no longer the centerpiece of the franchise. Instead, themes of family, loyalty, and brotherhood became the heart and soul of the series, and Walker’s O’Conner was a huge part of that. Aside from the bromance he shares with Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto, he marries Dom’s sister, Mia (Jordana Brewster), and she has his child. Making Brian a father isn’t the most subtle storytelling choice in the world, but it certainly raises the stakes when he’s out jumping between cars and participating in dangerous heists around the globe.
I’ve written before about how much I love this film series – not in an ironic, “I love these films because they’re awful” kind of way, either – and we’ll leave the speculation about how Walker’s death will affect the future of the franchise to more crass writers for the time being. For now, I just want to celebrate my favorite Paul Walker movies.
I’m not going to put them in a “listicle,” or make a photo gallery, or drop in a video of each film I mention. That doesn’t feel right to me so soon after the man has passed away. Instead, I’ll just encourage you to seek out the Fast films if you’ve never seen them, watch Joy Ride and Varsity Blues, and make it a priority to track down Wayne Kramer’s 2006 film Running Scared, which contains Walker’s best performance and is probably the best all-around movie he headlined. (I’ve also heard great things about this year’s release, Hours, which stars Walker as a father struggling to keep his infant daughter alive in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.)
Celebrity deaths have become strange events in 2013. With social media dominating pop culture, it often feels like people try to “out-grief” each other with status updates and Instagram selfies that show them watching the celebrity’s movies. I’m not saying every person who does this is being disingenuous, but I just think it’s a weird way of reacting to the loss of someone they likely never met in real life. Yes, there were soulless people who made terrible, unfunny jokes about how “ironic” it is that the star of a franchise in which cars often crash or explode died in a fiery car crash. But with Walker’s passing, I feel like there has been more genuine love put out there for him than nasty comments.
There’s a special kind of sadness that comes with losing someone at a relatively young age. Walker was 40, so he wasn’t quite as young as Corey Monteith or Lee Thompson Young (who both died this year), but any time someone has potential to do great things and doesn’t get the chance, it’s a tragic loss. The movie industry is smaller than you might think, so when someone associated with the Hollywood community dies, the loss hits home in a big way.
I didn’t know Paul Walker. I never interviewed him or saw him on the street. But in large part because of the work he did in the Fast films, he felt just a little bit like family.
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