Could one of Paul Walker's final films earn the late actor an Academy Award nomination?
Walker, who died in a car accident on Saturday at the way-too-young age of 40, was best known for his role as ace driver and former lawman Brian O'Conner in the "Fast & Furious" series (the fate of "Fast & Furious 7" is currently up in the air). Unfortunately, we had few chances to see him show off his more dramatic chops, such as via his passionate turn as low-level mob man Joey Gazelle in "Running Scared" (2006) or his sly portrayal of professional bank robber John Rahway in "Takers" (2010).
However, we'll soon be able to see what many are calling the best performance of Walker's career as his passion project, "Hours," is sticking to its theatrical and VOD release date of Dec. 13.
"As the publicist for the film 'Hours' and also as a friend of Paul Walker's, it is incredibly difficult to be in PR mode this morning, however knowing how much Paul loved and supported the film I am hoping to continue the push in his honor, especially since some critics are calling the film the 'best of his career,'" said Jim Dobson of Indie PR. "He will never be able to see the success of his work in theaters but he was incredibly proud and excited at the films premiere at the South by Southwest Film Festival in March."
"Hours" marks a radical departure for Walker, a chamber drama set against the backdrop of a real-world tragedy rather than a B-level action thriller filled with larger-than-life car chases and stunts. The film centers on Nolan Hayes (Walker) as he arrives at a New Orleans hospital with his pregnant wife, Abigail (Genesis Rodriguez), who has gone into early labor. The birth goes tragically wrong, and Nolan is left alone with his newborn child, who is on a respirator … while the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina rages both outside and within.
The awards-tracking site Gold Derby provides more plot details, revealing that the hurricane has knocked out the power and Noah must keep the respirator going via a hand pump that must be cranked every three minutes. Meanwhile, the flood waters continue to rise, and there appears to be no help coming any time soon.
It's about as far from a "Fast & Furious" movie as you can get, and a film that Walker held near and dear to his heart. In fact, "Hours" is the project that Walker hoped would prove his mettle as a serious actor.
"Paul was incredibly proud of this project. We did a press junket two weeks ago, and I remember sitting with him and how excited he was for people to see this movie," said Peter Safran, who co-produced the film with Walker, in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. "He really looked to this movie to show people that he is an actor. He was looking for something to showcase his acting skills, which he so rarely had the chance to do. He hit it out of the park."
Walker definitely connected with the subject matter of "Hours," as in 2010 he had founded the Reach Out Worldwide charity in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake. Family was of prime importance to Walker, a theme that also drives the recent installments of the "Fast & Furious" movies.
"'Hours' embodies a message that was so important to him, which is that you have to do everything you can to keep friends and family safe," said Safran.
"Hours" was picked up for domestic distribution by Pantelion following its premiere earlier this year at SXSW. The film made Fan TV's 10 Best of the Fest list, with critic Fred Topel writing that Walker "totally delivers" with his "intense" performance.
Stephen Saito of The Moveable Fest also praises Walker's performance, saying the actor "rises to the occasion" and is "ideally suited" for the role as he "wears grief convincingly, letting it ooze out slowly while keeping his concentration at the task at hand."
And Joe Leydon of Variety says that Walker "capably and compellingly rises to the demands of the role" for what is "practically a one-man show" as he "gracefully balances the drama on his shoulders."
That's some impressive praise for an actor who was often criticized for his wooden performances. Good reviews, and the fact that "Hours" takes such a hard right turn away from the "Fast & Furious" franchise, might be enough to garner Paul Walker some posthumous Oscar consideration, as mentioned by Gold Derby editor Tom O'Neil. "Walker's performance is quite impressive [in 'Hours']," O'Neil writes.
It would make for the actor's first nomination … and a fine homage to a man who was a lot more than just a pretty face behind the wheel of a fast car.
"Hours" will open in 15 cities and on VOD on Dec. 13.
Watch Paul Walker discuss 'Hours' in this behind-the-scenes featurette: