Over the holiday weekend, actor Paul Walker died at age 40 in a horrific-sounding car accident in Los Angeles. It sounds like a sick joke—the kind of fiery end due to be retconned away halfway through the end credits of Fast and Furious 8. But no: the star of five out of six (soon to be six out of seven) Fast and the Furious movies really is gone. I was surprised by how affected I was by this news—and not just because 40 is way too young for just about anyone or because Walker leaves behind a 15-year-old daughter, though obviously those factors can’t be discounted.
Before I heard the bad news, it was easy to regard Walker as the weak link in the Fast and Furious series, especially with Vin Diesel, The Rock, Michelle Rodriguez, and Gina Carano pummeling and/or helping each other while Walker’s Brian O’Conner hangs back with Jordana Brewster or occasionally goes on ludicrous solo missions like his globetrotting infiltration of a prison in Furious 6. Plus, Walker was front and center for the worst entry (2 Fast 2 Furious) along with some non-Furious pictures that are truly awful, namely Timeline and The Skulls. (I somehow haven’t seen Tammy and the T-Rex.)
Yet the familial vibe of the Fast and Furious series, particularly following its reunion-themed four-quel, improved Walker’s screen presence, which in turn lent the series some human emotion. Though the Diesel/Rock team-up draws more attention in the later and best installments, the brotherly bond between Diesel and Walker in the first film forms the basis for surprising attachments of those same later films. Walker was also strong in a couple of genre movies, anchoring Takers, John Dahl’s taut Joy Ride (pitted against a vengeful trucker) and, in his best performance, Wayne Kramer’s Running Scared. There, playing a low-level mook on the trail of a hot gun, Walker showed a scrappy, likable energy at the center of a truly bonkers exercise. Like a lot of extremely good-looking people, he was best when playing (slightly) against those physical attributes (though aliens in search of perfect physical specimens might be directed to Into the Blue, a Walker/Alba swimsuit/treasure-hunting extravaganza).
So while my thoughts about Paul Walker were confined almost entirely to evaluating his bro-itude in Fast and Furious movies and perhaps some post-movie fan-fiction about what Walker did in between those movies (I assumed mostly surfing and volleyball), I’m now left wondering how he might have aged into more of a character actor onscreen, especially as his main series ensured that he wouldn’t have to take much other work unless he felt like it. Maybe I’ll seek out his semireleased movies Vehicle 19 and Pawn Shop Chronicles (the latter a reunion with Kramer), which seemed to play to his strengths. I’ll probably make a point of seeing Brick Mansions, his final completed action movie. And I’ll certainly feel wistful over his final appearance in Fast and Furious 7—I hope he shot enough footage to ride off into the sunset mid-movie, his driver bros wishing him well. As is turns out, I’ll totally miss you too, bro.