We say goodbye to Paul Walker by praising a performance well worth remembering.
The sad passing of Paul Walker this week brought about a gamut of tributes, eulogies, appraisals and memorials – and rightly so. Most of these centred around Walker as the face of the Fast & Furious franchise, as one of Hollywood’s good guys, a man with searing good looks and charm to boot – and again, rightly so. There hasn’t, however, been too much in the way of what Walker was like as an actor; one outside of the Fast & the Furious behemoth, that is. With that in mind, it seems only right for us to focus on what can be considered Walker’s finest role: his performance in Wayne Kramer’s Running Scared (2006).
The one constant in Running Scared is Paul Walker, who plays it with aplomb, guiding his character through seven different hells
The film is a peculiar one and, on re-watching, one finds oneself caught in the purgatory of the film’s ambition. On the one hand, it is the fastest-paced thriller in recent memory, a mile-a-minute thrill ride unlike anything else. On the other, it’s all a bit of a mess, with enough plot strands to fill four movies and enough immoderation to make a Michael Bay film seem quaint. Stylistically it uses every conceivable variant, from slow-motion to colour saturation to shots played in reverse and back (and beyond). There are parts of it that touch greatness and there are parts of it that waltz with ridiculous. All in all, it’s a damn good movie stretched out into one that isn’t quite so.
The one constant throughout all of this is Paul Walker’s Joey Gazelle, the man charged with traversing the New Jersey night in search of a lost gun that could implicate him in all manner of things, of which I don’t have enough time or space to explain here. Walker plays it with aplomb, guiding his character through about seven different hells along the way.
From each, Walker surfaces broke but not broken, somehow managing to carry on speeding through a night that makes the one in After Hours look like a venerable stroll. Walker plays Joey as a man of morals in a world that has lost them – he is sleazy and shady but never, as his wife tells him, evil. She does not see it in him like she does the other characters of the film, and it’s testament to Walker’s performance that he emerges from a devilish film looking like an angel.
Walker was a mix of the smouldering and the tough, a sort of Steve McQueen for the 00s
Walker throws himself into Running Scared’s set pieces – which range from spectacular to silly – fully and there is never a thought that it is anyone but he getting a hockey puck smashed into his face or a mad Mexican mechanic trying to set him on fire. The hockey scene in particular is a fine one, an original nightmare set on ice, and, as Walker lies on the ice, his face half drowning in a pool of blood, his speech bubbling in its puddle, we are left in no doubt of his talents as an actor. He may not be in a car this time, but he’s still driving things.
Walker’s finest moment in Running Scared occurs early on, in a scene that isn’t important to the plot. It involves cunnilingus and serves as one of the most realistic depictions of a man eating pussy ever seen on screen. It is tender and rough, affectionate and animalistic, and, as Walker pulls the weft of his wife’s underwear to one side, we see that, as an actor, he was too. Walker was a mix of the smouldering and the tough, a sort of Steve McQueen for the 00s, and, though he never quite hit those heights, we are left with the impression that had his life not been cut short, he probably could have.
All images: New Line Cinema