Paul Walker Dead at 40: Actor known for unironic sincerity

STRINGER/BRAZIL/REUTERS

With Paul Walker, the actor’s life and roles seemed to be clearly associated with each other.

You can tell a lot about someone from the way people respond to his death. The outpouring of sadness for Paul Walker’s tragically sudden — and, at just 40 years old, tragically early — demise might have come as a surprise to anyone still unfamiliar with the “Fast & Furious” films. But all those who made it a multi-billion dollar franchise will surely understand.

Any competent director can choreograph a chase scene, after all. And yet, how many action movies have spawned six sequels? The real secret to this series’ success isn’t speed. It’s the earnest, entirely unironic sentimentality that has also come to define Walker’s career.

Walker’s death has left the franchise filmmakers with a lot to consider - including how to finish production on the 7th film.

Handout

Walker’s death has left the franchise filmmakers with a lot to consider – including how to finish production on the 7th film.

RELATED: PAUL WALKER DEAD AT 40 AFTER FIERY CRASH

Though Vin Diesel is the undisputed star of the “Fast” films, both he and his character have always emphasized the story’s communal nature. Family is all that matters to Diesel’s Dominic Toretto, dedication what drives him.

Paul Walker brought his character sincerity in the 2013 film " Vehicle 19."

Forefront Media Group

Paul Walker brought his character sincerity in the 2013 film ” Vehicle 19.”

Walker was in a supporting role, as Dominic’s best friend and brother-in-law Brian O’Conner. But every member of a family brings his or her own unique value. Now Dominic’s fiercely loyal partner is gone, and fans — who’ve also become part of the “Fast” clan — feel it.

PHOTOS: STARS GONE TOO SOON

Paul Walker, from left, Dule Hill and Freddie Prinze Jr. appear in a scene from Robert Iscove's film "She's All That." 

CLAUDETTE BARIUS/AP

Paul Walker, from left, Dule Hill and Freddie Prinze Jr. appear in a scene from Robert Iscove’s film “She’s All That.” 

While Walker was proud to be part of these films, he worked hard to create an independent identity as an actor. Interestingly, though, he consistently chose projects that represented similar values to the franchise that brought him fame.

It’s hard to know whether he actively sought out offbeat indies and quirky B-movies, or saw his options limited from typecasting after the massive success of “The Fast and the Furious.” But these were the films that gave him the opportunity to stretch himself, to prove he had more than Hollywood-ready handsomeness to offer.

In 2006's "8 Below" Paul Walker showed just how tight the bond between a man and his dogs can be. 

Everett Collection

In 2006’s “8 Below” Paul Walker showed just how tight the bond between a man and his dogs can be. 

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He gave his all in this year’s “Vehicle 19,” a low-budget, high-concept kidnapping thriller in which Walker is the only character onscreen for most of the running time. It was a challenge he embraced with impressive commitment, clearly relishing the chance to take the lead as a former convict trying to do the right thing.

Last photo tweeted by Paul Walker on November 29, 2013 captioned: The boys are back. Will you be ready? - #TeamPW #FastFridays

Paul Walker via Twitter

Last photo tweeted by Paul Walker on November 29, 2013 captioned: The boys are back. Will you be ready? – #TeamPW #FastFridays

As it happens, that’s a description applicable to many of his roles, the most well-known being Joey Gazelle from 2006’s garish crime thriller “Running Scared.” While most post-Tarantino exercises in excess sink without a trace, “Running Scared” is still rewatched with a cultish loyalty thanks in large part to Walker, who serves as the deliberately unsteady center of the gory storm.

RELATED: PAUL WALKER DEAD AT 40: STARS REACT TO HIS DEATH

As was typically the case for Walker, he approached the part-an in-over-his-head mobster — with a solemn sincerity that emphasized his character’s innate integrity.

Whether in action films (which also included “Into the Blue”), family titles (“Eight Below”), teen movies (“Varsity Blues,” “The Skulls”), or even Oscar nominated prestige pictures (“Pleasantville,” “Flags of Our Fathers”), it was this sincerity that became his trademark.

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Fans learned this weekend that Walker was also a dedicated father and a passionate supporter of the charity he co-founded, Reach Out WorldWide. It’s usually counterintuitive to associate an actor’s life with his roles. But with Walker, the two seemed to have been intrinsically connected.

Even when he was playing conmen, he aimed to give them high moral character, and ground them in personal ties. Surely, then, it’s no coincidence that he was drawn to the “Fast & Furious” films, whose bedrock has always been a heartfelt emphasis on allegiance. Walker will be best remembered for these movies not as a supporting player, but as a crucial member of the family.

EWeitzman@nydailynews.com


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