Mar 24, 2008

Paranoid Park

Paranoid Park is the latest creation from the always innovative mind of Gus Van Sant. This director's films are always a must see, as he continually attempts to conjure up something a little unique. This film is no different. Paranoid Park could be seen as somewhat of a companion piece to his wonderful "Elephant", in that its main concerns are the youth of his native Portland. It involves itself with the minutiae of their troubled lives, and like "Elephant" the film uses a mainly untrained cast to portray the teenagers brought into focus. I would say that Van Sant has succeeded on some levels, but missed on others. The film is beautifully shot, many scenes handled with great care and originality. But the plot is fairly minimal, lacking great dynamic and flow. This creates a film that is definitely worth seeing, but probably not one that is truly essential.

Paranoid Park is centred around the skateboarding culture of Portland, Oregon. The title of the film is taken from the nick name of a skate park, where we meet the central character. Alex (Gabe Nevins) is a shy young man, who likes to skate and write in his journal. He appears as a thoughtful young person, although somewhat lacking in confidence. His best friend is Jared (Jake Miller), who is more brash and persuades Alex to visit "Paranoid Park" for the first time. It is here where the major incident of the film occurs. A security guard is killed near the skate park and Alex is considered a major suspect. The film then flows back and forth from before and after the night. We get to know the other skaters and their culture, as well as Alex's girlfriend Jennifer (Taylor Momsen). This represents the fairly thin plot. But this film is not about plot, I believe. It is about conveying to us the world of the young people in the film. Here, it succeeds greatly. Shot beautifully by Australian Christopher Doyle, there are many scenes that are quietly beautiful. Often in slow motion, the camera lingers lengthily on the film's characters. This makes for a languid pace, but this wasn't something which bothered me. I believe the young and untrained cast do a reasonable job in their roles. Although not always being natural in front of the camera, it gives you a strong sense of the world of teenagers. Sometimes a clumsily delivered line becomes effective as it relays the awkwardness of being that age. Woven into the film are many hand held video moments of the skateboarders doing their thing. Again, this is also effective at conveying a glimpse of their world. Paranoid Park is an original and captivating film, one that is worth investigating if you enjoy cinema that is authentic and genuine. Thanks to Gus Van Sant.

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