Van Sant masterfully rolls out artsy flick about sk8er bois
"Paranoid Park" will not feed your own paranoia. It’s a portrait of another person’s paranoia, yet so subtle you hardly realize it. Alex (Gabe Nevins) talks with a friend about stress factors: the war in Iraq, his parents’ divorce, a lame relationship … Alex can’t talk to anyone about his big stresser — anyone but you, the viewer.
He’s interviewed by Portland Police Detective Liu (Dan Liu) about the night a security guard was found dead. Liu is talking to members of "the skateboard community" because a skateboard was the apparent murder weapon and the crime occurred near the skateboarding area the kids call "Paranoid Park." Alex says he didn’t go to the park that night but had dinner at a Subway on the waterfront. Later, we see he did go to the park and ordered two cheeseburgers at a drive-through.
Alex’s girlfriend, Jennifer (Taylor Momsen), is jealous because he’d rather go skateboarding with his friend Jared (Jake Miller) than be with her. He confides to Macy (Lauren McKinney), about his breakup with Jennifer long before we see it.
Will this be "Crime and Punishment," with Alex done in by his guilty feelings, or "Law & Order," with the police pinning misdeeds on him through investigation?
Gus Van Sant’s elliptical style may be maddening, but it’s all he has. And in this case, it’s enough. As in the brilliant "Elephant," the less successful "Gerry" and the dreadful "Last Days," Van Sant breaks all the rules. He pads his relatively brief film with long takes of someone walking and, in this case, close-ups of Alex thinking or doing nothing.
Van Sant may be accused of fetishizing his lead actor — a valid point but not to the film’s detriment. Although Nevins has his shirt off in a few scenes, there’s nothing sexual about the way Christopher Doyle’s camera lingers on him. Read what you will into Jared’s big close-up, as he stares at Alex for the longest time. Van Sant also edited the film, perhaps because no legitimate editor would have followed his instructions.
A nonprofessional making his acting debut, Nevins seems perfectly natural on camera. But he doesn’t fare as well with the narration.
"Paranoid Park" has a hypnotizing effect. I viewed it yesterday. I’m sure I’ve awakened from the trance, and yet I’m still enamored of the film.
Opens March 14 at the Angelika Dallas.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 14, 2008
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