The film world sadly lost one of their rising stars this past weekend. I am dedicating my Top Five this week to Paul Walker. Though I wouldn’t have considered myself an avid fan of his, I did very much enjoy his work. I have only ever seen five of his films, which I thought was both fitting and sad. What I appreciated about his work was his ability to have fun with the projects he dedicated himself to. They may not have all been Oscar worthy but they were enjoyable and it seemed like he knew that. This is not in anyway supposed to be a “best list.” It is simply a reflection on those films of his I have seen, and come to love.
5. The Skulls (2000)
A dramatic mystery about the legendary Skull and Bones secret society at Yale University, this film features Paul Walker as a college student and antagonist to Joshua Jackson’s main character, Luke McNamara. Walker made a career of playing the young, attractive, prick popular-type guys, who almost always stood as an example of what the protagonist should not aim to be. It makes sense. He was almost unnaturally good-looking and he could easily make himself sound like a blockhead. However, in The Skulls, he gets a little sympathy because he isn’t intentionally mean. He makes a mistake and puts his trust in the wrong people. He is even redeemed at the end with his final actions. Overall the film ages a little but is very reflective of the time it was made. It’s still entertaining and acts as a nice little trip down Memory Lane for those of us for which it was one of our first “grown-up” films.
4. She’s All That (1999)
This is one of those films from my childhood/pre-teen years that I love purely for the sense of nostalgia I feel when I watch it. It is by no means perfect but it is so much fun and so very 90s. The set up is a quintessential plot of a teenage romantic comedy. The d-bag jock “friend” of and the male protagonist bet on whether or not he (the protagonist) can turn any girl in the school into the prom queen, and of course romance blooms from this. The story isn’t flawless, nor is the acting but it’s pure fluff entertainment. It features the hot young stars of the day, including Freddie Prinze, Jr., Rachael Leigh Cook and of course, Paul Walker, who plays the jerk friend. Even though he’s technically the “bad guy” in the film, he’s still charming and adorable.
3. Eight Below (2006)
I am an animal lover, and more specifically I am a dog lover. I knew before I saw this that I was going to love it and I was going to cry my eyes out. The film is loosely based on a true story and though it embellishes some things, and makes creative adjustments here and there, it is done so with the good taste that Disney is known for. Walker plays a guide who takes a scientist (Bruce Greenwood) up a mountain in Antarctica with his sleigh dogs. Unexpected things happen, bad weather is involved and the people at the station are forced to evacuate, leaving the dogs behind until they can return to rescue them. The idea of the film is incredibly heartbreaking and, though the dogs are the real stars, Walker does a very nice job as a man forced into a bad choice, and tortured by having to leave his family behind in a terrible situation. It is an endearing story and my favorite Paul Walker movie.
2. Pleasantville (1998)
While the above film is my favorite of Paul Walker’s, I believe this is his best (from the films of his I have actually seen). The story is about David, a teenager (Tobey Maguire) who, along with his sister get stuck in the world of a 50’s television sitcom, Pleasantville. Their interference with the world causes things to gradually change from black and white to color, in what is one of the best cinematic uses of color as a major theme. It is beautiful to look at and the story itself is wonderfully original. Walker plays the star basketball player in the television series (a jock yet again) who gets involved with David’s sister, Jennifer (Reese Witherspoon). Though his part is small, his character is important to the story and he is perfect as the slightly naive but sweet Skip Martin.
1. The Fast and the Furious (2001)
Brian O’Conner will undoubtedly be the role Paul Walker is most widely remembered for. I have only seen the first film but I know many people who have followed the franchise religiously. It has been Universal’s most successful series. Speaking just on the initial film, it’s a solid action flick that mixes fast cars with an undercover cop storyline. While the setup of a cop who goes undercover and ends up befriending the enemy may not be completely original (see Point Break), the twist with street racing bandits is a nice addition. Walker works well as the young cop in the breakout role of his career. I know the clip below isn’t from the first film but it was one of the only ones from the franchise that didn’t feature a racing/chase scene. It was too heartbreaking to watch those ones and I wanted to highlight Walker’s performance rather than the cars.