It takes the right kind of talent to make the jump from television to big budget action movies. Anyone remember Taylor Kitsch, the Friday Night Lights star who led two of 2012’s biggest bombs, John Carter and Battleship? The actor was one of the worst parts of both those films, yet was significantly better in other, smaller films like Savages and Lone Survivor (though I still have yet to list a movie he starred in that I would ever really recommend). In those big films Kitsch gives a performance similar to his on Friday Night Lights, but the sulky ultra-serious good looking guy schtick didn’t hold up while jumping across the plains or Mars or fighting aliens at sea. And with Need for Speed hitting this week trying to make a star out of Aaron Paul, we see just the same problem arising for the Breaking Bad star.
On the hit AMC show Paul was a fan favorite, imbuing degenerate drug dealer Jesse Pinkman with just the right mix of sadness and comic relief, depending on where the character was. But one of the biggest critiques of the show was how often it would stick Paul doing the same depressed bit over and over again, which was always a lowpoint for his character’s arc (especially because it happened so much). Paul’s good enough at it and it works for the character, but it got tiring at points. Unfortunately what Need for Speed asks him to do is just that, except without any of the interesting character traits or even moments of levity that Breaking Bad gave him. Paul is basically giving the same performance that Kitsch gave in his failed franchise starters, that of a downbeat troubled hero. It actually works better for Paul than Kitsch because it fits the character, but the character doesn’t really fit the movie. Maybe the film wanted a quiet, brooding hero along the lines of Ryan Gosling’s driver from Drive, but Paul just makes him mopey. He isn’t cool, even if the car stunts are.
He really just ends up seeming out of place amongst the extremely energetic Imogen Poots (playing his love interest) or all his friends cracking jokes with each other throughout. The character has plenty to be sad about, for sure, but even before his friend is killed and he ends up in prison he’s kind of a drag. Then again, his father has just died. So blame can be put equally on the script and Paul, but surely the actor and the film would both be better off if they had avoided each other.
With the film making only $17.8 million this weekend, it doesn’t look like audiences embraced Paul as an action hero, and for good reason. But unlike Kitsch, Paul has been heavily involved with all other sorts of films as well. He co-starred in the addiction drama Smashed two years ago, which premiered at Sundance and although it was a bit rudimentarily written, the performances were the highlight for sure. This year he had another film, Hellion, and the festival, and has another film Decoding Annie Parker making the festival rounds as well. He’s in a small suicide romantic comedy A Long Way Down with his Need for Speed co-star Imogen Poots that doesn’t have a US distributor yet. He’s just finished filming Ridley Scott’s Moses epic Exodus, where he’ll star as Joseph opposite Christian Bale’s Moses, and he’s been cast in films from John Hillcoat (The Road) and Gabriele Muccino (The Pursuit of Happyness), giving him a huge range. Biblical epics to crime dramas to romantic comedies to action movies, hopefully Paul can find a route so he can have a long career after Breaking Bad. He’s been rumoured to be joining the spinoff series Better Call Saul, but I hope he’s able to break away from this one role.