'I Am Paul Walker' will make you see the true value of life with its heart-felt portrayal of the actor and activist
On the fifth anniversary of the tragic passing of Paul Walker, Adrian Buitenhuis' documentary offers an insightful look at the life and legacy of the Fast & Furious star
November 30 will mark the fifth anniversary of the tragic passing of 'The Fast and the Furious' star Paul Walker. In memory of the beloved actor, Virgil Films is releasing 'I Am Paul Walker', a feature-length documentary that explores the life and legacy of the young actor who lost his life in a freak accident during a promotional drive for his charity Reach Out Worldwide.
The documentary, running approximately 30-minutes longer than the version broadcast on television earlier this year, is directed by Adrian Buitenhuis, who also helmed the Heath Ledger documentary 'I Am Heath Ledger'. Featuring interviews with those who were closest to Paul, including 'Fast & Furious' co-star Tyrese Gibson and directosr Rob Cohen and Wayne Kramer, family members Cody Walker, Caleb Walker, Ashlie Walker, Cheryl Walker, and Paul Walker III and other close friends of Paul, the documentary offers an insightful look at the life of cheerful Southern California native and his stuggle to balance a life of a Hollywood celebrity and an earnest family man.
As any well-made biographical documentary, 'I Am Paul Walker' gives us a look at Walker's life that goes beyond the Wikipedia page and the many touching obituaries that followed in the wake of his death. The narrative is driven purely by the heartfelt interviews of Paul's friends and family while the visuals offer us a never-before-seen look at archival footage and candid shots from Paul's life.
With a straightforward and linear narrative, one of the key aspects the documentary explores is how Paul imbibed the values he learned early on in life and tried to stick to them through his rise to fame. And those values are laid down early on in the film. Paul was always a giver — someone who would go out of his way to help another fellow human being (or even animal) in trouble. As his siter Ashley Walker puts it, "He did take care of people. To the point that he didn't take care of himself."
As a California native and the very definition of a pretty boy, Paul's acting career took off while he was still in his early teens, acting in commerials and soaps in the late '80s. But his heart lay somehwere else. Always drawn to the surf 'n' turf and the vibrant coastal scene, Paul was at his element when he was in the water, either surfing or wakeboarding or just floating around. This blue-eyed surfer boy image would take a while to shake off, something that annoyed Paul well into his 20s.
Just before his acting career launched with 'The Fast and The Furious' and made him a "movie star" overnight, Paul was at his lowest point in life. He had spent all his college money with which he wanted to study marine biology and was going to have a baby with his childhood sweetheart Rebecca McBrain. But even at his lowest point, he was always looking out for the interest of his friends and family first — something that remained with him till his very last days.
"It didn't matter whether he had it all or had nothing. He didn't change. He was the same person," says his youngest brother Cody Walker, who admits that Paul — who is 15 years older — was almost a father figure to him.
The tragedy of Paul's death is that it is simply the opposite of the regular Hollywood star who gives into the temptaion of vices to deal with the pressures of leading a public life. Paul never got into drugs, never had a serious scuffle with the law, never went to rehab and never needed a vice as a crutch.
He rarely, if ever, denied a fan an autograph and, one time, he even pulled out a dollar bill and signed it because a fan had no paper for the autograph! His rush was adrenaline. When he was not off on his high octane shoots for the many action films that he starred in, he was off catching the next 20 foot wave to surf or taking cars around the racetrack for a spin.
One particular clip from the many shots of archival footage is particularly eerie in the film. During one of his thrill-seeking adventures, Paul is seen doing donuts on a dune buggy and, for a second, two feels lift of the ground before precariously landing back again. "Oh I thought I was gone for sure," Paul says with that beaming grin that the world came to love and adore. The scene sent a chill down my spine.
Throughout his life, Paul was constantly rebeling against anything that threatened his identity and core values. As co-star Tyrese Gibson and childhood friend/stuntman Oakley Lehman reveal, he had considered walking away from the overwhelming buzz of Hollywood many times, but kept getting pulled back into the grind. As the documentary reveals, Paul was even in line for the role of Superman. But he didn't feel like the cape and the costume really resonated with him and he turned down the $10 million deal without even giving it a second thought.
We see a clip of Paul in an interview where he is asked what success means to him. Without skipping a beat, he immediately says: "Trying to find balance in life." And that ultimately was Paul's biggest challenge, whether it was spending time with his daughter Meadow or trying to hold his family together when his parents separated.
Paul always shied away from paprazzi and the hounding press. Even when he turned his efforts towards shark conservation, he never used his stardom to draw attention to his efforts. As his friend and marine biologist Dr. Michael Domeier reveals, Paul wanted to quit acting and study marine biology. But Domeier convinced him that he can make a bigger impact as a public figure than any marine biologist could.
Another little known fact that shows Paul's giving nature that is shown in the docu is how he rushed to Haiti after the devastating 2010 earthquake. Even when there were no flights headed to the country, he chartered a helicopter with help from Vin Diesel and flew over to the island nation to help with the recovery efforts.
And the reason we hear so little about it is because he kept the press and PR at bay, never using his activism to push his career forward. It shows how genuinely he wanted to help his fellow brethren. His private life and public life were separate and that's the way he liked to keep it.
Towards the end of the documentary, as we head towards the fateful and tragic day that cut Paul's life short, all the interview subjects are choked up and on the verge of tears. Even for those who were not ardent fans of the young actor, it's hard not to feel a lump in your throat. Even in his final moments, Paul Walker was out there doing an event for his charity, raising funds for victims of Typhoon Haiyan in South East Asia.
As the credits rolled, I couldn't help but think about how brief our lives are and how people like Paul are beacons that remind us to chersih every moment of this strange existence. The ultimate message to take away from 'I Am Paul Walker' is that we never asked to be born in the first place. But now that we're here, all we can really do is make our actions count as we try to add our own meaning to our short tale.
'I Am Paul Walker' releases on VOD on November 30 followed by a DVD release on December 4. Pre-orders are ongoing.