During a promotional video shoot for Reach Out Worldwide a producer questions Paul Walker’s use of the word ‘let’s’ in his call for aid action in the Phillipines, fearing that its inclusion will deflect attention away from his star. Walker instinctively rebuffs him: ‘they don’t need to know it’s my thing … it’s something that I believe in, so let’s join it together.’ This moment towards the end of I Am Paul Walker is a neat summation of its subject, who, during his short life as a film star, was suspicious of fame and, by all accounts in this documentary, a generous and much-loved person.
Walker was the fourth in a line of Paul Walkers, soldiers and athletes who instilled practicality and machismo in the young Paul IV, who took every opportunity to spend time with his family and friends in sunny California, swimming and driving cars. His good looks inexorably drew him to an acting career, initially in commercials and supporting roles as jocks and pretty boys in 90s romps, before being thrust into the spotlight for his portrayal of the drag racer Brian O’Conner in the lucrative Fast and Furious film franchise.
A young Paul Walker (Courtesy of the Paul Walker Family)
I Am Paul Walker is Paramount Network’s latest in its I Am series, which includes documentaries on other gone-to-soon luminaries, such as Heath Ledger and Steve McQueen. This study of Walker’s life is modestly shot, with no flourishes and minimal music (there only appears to be one licensed song). Friends, family, and colleagues recount Walker’s life via anecdotes, and these are interspersed with charming home video and photographic vignettes of the Walker siblings' idyllic childhood.
In I Am Paul Walker there is an overarching sense of ‘what could have been?’ Walker’s boyish face was beginning to mature and, according to his manager Matt Luber, he was on the cusp of shedding his Californian dude persona for more serious roles. Director Wayne Kramer foresaw him in his forties and fifties as Steve McQueen’s spiritual successor. At the very least it is easy to imagine Walker being inducted into the pantheon of current Marvel or DC film superheroes, had he lived. (Indeed, we discover that he was the forerunner for playing Superman in the 2006 film, but pulled out, fearing that the role wasn’t for him)
While I Am Paul Walker isn’t as engrossing as other notable film biographies, such as Amy (2015) or George Harrison: Living in the material world (2011), its minimal style and its unpretentiousness is perhaps a reflection of its uncomplicated subject. Interviewees often emphasise Walker’s discomfort with the insincerity of the Hollywood system and his frequent escapades into the wilderness to pursue adrenaline-fuelled activities when his popularity became oppressive. It is fascinating to learn of Walker’s passion for marine conservation and his tireless aid efforts in the wake of the 2010 Chilean earthquake. Any darkness or salaciousness is omitted from this documentary. Its reverential tone suggests that there was more to Walker than his often vacuous on-screen identities, and that his death in 2013 is still raw to those that knew him best.
I Am Paul Walker (The Backlot Films), 89 minutes, in cinemas 21 September for a limited time across Australia.