Who'd have thought? The man could act after all.
It’s understandable that the work of a young actor, cut down in his prime, is likely to be reappraised perhaps with more forgiving eyes than had he lived on to lesser or greater later results.River Phoenix, Heath Ledger and now Paul Walker; they all had their fair share of terrible movies, movies which could put you off them forever. Yet they all also showed some kind of spark, and certainly Ledger’s now career-defining portrait of The Joker arguably elevates his standing far beyond what might have been previously expected of him. Paul Walker, at best, made for an affable lead in some pretty throwaway movies; his hits – the Fast & Furious series – probably also giving him his best work, as he aged and matured with a character that started off vacuous, cheesy and clichéd and, frankly, could only get better from there.Now, with the unfinished footage from his seventh Fast & Furious film being cut and edited to give his character some kind of fitting closure, The Crow-style, his penultimate complete film (the remake of the Besson-produced French actioner District 13, Brick Houses, will be out later in 2014) is released; an under-the-radar, low budget indie production with no glitz or glamour; no big names or big promotion. A simple premise, a simple plot, and one man to carry the entire production – Paul Walker. And, you know what, he does a stand-up job.
The story is deceptively simple: a young husband brings his pregnant wife into hospital on the eve of Hurricane Katrina’s first assault, and is left alone in the soon-abandoned building to keep his prematurely-born baby’s ventilator going for the 48 hours required until she can breathe on her own. It’s a true test of stamina, as this man weathers floods, power outages, food and water shortages, battery failure, medication shortages, and even armed looters, all to try and keep his baby alive.
This may not be an acting masterclass but he rises to the material, bringing emotional weight to the forefront.
Sure, he falters where more skilled, seasoned actors would find it a walk in the park (and, consequently, probably phone-in their performances), but he seems prepared to give it his all, and the end result is an admirable effort; one which is a far cry from the surfer-dude Keanu Reeves-lite that he birthed, fully-formed, into Hollywood as, little more than a decade ago. With age comes a more appreciable authenticity; more mature responses to situations and events, and perhaps even better material with which to show off your developed skills. His scenes opposite his wife, played charmingly by Genesis Rodriguez, are filled with genuine chemistry and authentic marital anecdotes; whilst his shock and horror later on – and sheer disbelief – will, if not bring a tear to your eye, certainly make you pause to gulp.
There’s no doubt that Walker never got this kind of quality material before, but there’s also no doubt that he wasn’t ready for it before; with only his last half-decade revealing a stronger, more refined performer emerging from the inexperienced shell within which he spent the first half of his career. He’ll never be mistaken for a great actor – his most common positives are attributed as being more personality-derived: “he was a really nice guy, great on set, really warm and kind” etc. – but Hours gives us genuine reason to suspect that there was something more to him beyond that which we’d previously seen.
Similarly, whilst Hours itself isn’t exactly a masterpiece either, it provides a satisfying, surprisingly tense – and surprisingly realistic – little one-man’s-perspective look at the effect of Hurricane Katrina, and the strength and determination with which a scant few found the will to survive. This one victim symbolises an entire city population; broken but not quite beaten, as their homes lie destroyed and their friends and family are wounded, dead or simply missing. It enables the film’s small scale to work for it, and allows it to resonate far beyond the low budget walls that the limited set would otherwise allow for.
Don’t be put off by the relative lack of promotion, this, one of Walker’s final features, may well also be his finest hour. Recommended.
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