A mere glimpse at a photograph of Paul Walker and it's obvious that the man had a face for the camera. New Paramount Network documentary I AM Paul Walker wants to tell us something else: beneath those baby blue eyes was a kind heart.
Walker never quite received critical accolades for his film work. Instead, the actor cut his teeth with movies that would become ideal nostalgia fare for '90s babies. Following a career as a child actor, the California native gained heartthrob status in flicks like Varsity Blues, Pleasantville, and She's All That. Then, after a turn in Rob Cohen's The Skulls in 2000, came the opportunity to star in the director's next film: The Fast and the Furious.
Walker's role as a conflicted cop Brian O'Conner in The Fast and the Furious franchise solidified his status as an action star. So it was a twist of tragic irony when, after spending years behind the wheel as O'Conner, Walker died in a horrific car accident in 2013.
Nearly five years after Walker's shocking death, Paramount Network has released I AM Paul Walker, a Network Entertainment-produced doc that honors the late star. What the doc is celebrating is not his career which, while long, was also somewhat limited to the many Fast and the Furious flicks he made in his later years. He never reached for the Oscar bait movies former child stars like Leonardo DiCaprio did, even if he did occasionally exit his chase scene comfort zone for indie dramas like 2013's Hours. In interviews with his friends and family, it's revealed that there's a reason for that: Hollywood stardom was simply never that appealing to Walker.
The documentary mixes a series of talking head interviews with footage from Walker's film career and private home movies of the star. Walker's family tells the bulk of the story, allowing us insight into the private life that the star led. Walker was a longtime surfer who loved nature so much that he often dreamt of leaving Hollywood behind and becoming a park ranger somewhere. (During his episode of MTV's Cribs, he even had the camera crew tour the RV that his family took on their many road trips — a huge house in the Hollywood Hills never felt like home for him.)
It's implied throughout I AM Paul Walker that part of the reason Walker did not settle for $20,000 a year and a cabin in the woods was the responsibility he felt to take care of his family, including daughter Meadow.
The doc reveals a recurring theme of Walker's life: The actor took responsibility to fix things, and often did so quietly. As noted in the documentary, he hopped on a plane to Haiti following the country's massive earthquake. He bought his sister a Lexus when she needed a new car. Walker even embarked on a campaign to get Tyrese Gibson back in the Fast and the Furious franchise, when others stayed silent. (Gibson is interviewed in the documentary, and it's clear he feels a lot of love for his late co-star.)
This is not the first time that Walker has been praised posthumously for his acts of compassion. Shortly after the car accident, it was reported that the actor bought a $10,000 engagement ring for a soldier to give to his girlfriend, and did so anonymously, after overhearing that the soldier couldn't afford his soon-to-be bride's dream ring.
The truth is, we don't know where Walker's Hollywood career was headed, even if he didn't retire to the mountains like he joked to his family he would. It's also true that Paramount Network's movie was likely approved by Walker's family, which may be why it skipped over some of the more controversial parts of the actor's past. (While Walker's relationship with the mother of his daughter is highlighted in the film, his relationship with girlfriend Jasmine Gosnell, which continued up until he died, is not discussed. It is reported that their relationship may have started when Gosnell was a teenager and Walker in his 30s.)
Still, what we do know about Walker suggests he was a man worthy of the fandom surrounding him. Walker wasn't a movie star with Oscars on his fireplace mantle, but he had something more important: a kind, generous spirit.