Synopsis: Alex (Gabe Nevins) is a teenager whose parents are getting divorced, and whose main interest is skateboarding. His friend Jared (Jake Miller) urges him to go to Paranoid Park with him, the infamous concrete park built by and for skateboarders, which attracts a variety of youngsters for a variety of reasons. Alex finally summons the courage to go, and when one of the regulars, Scratch (Scott Green) suggests they go freight train riding, Alex agrees. But the security guard (John 'Mike' Burrowes) sees them and as Alex tries to fend him off, the guard stumbles backwards into the path of another train. Alex says nothing to anyone about it.
Gus Van Sant’s exploration into teen angst (after the highly successful Elephant) has a distinctive visual style all of its own.
If you could take anything from director Gus Van Sant’s amoral thriller, it is an abstract lesson in Western indifference and lack of culpability. It rises to the surface through references to the war in Iraq, and most gruesomely after the film’s big, plot-turning moment. Yet this is a gloves-on story immersed in the day-to-day minutia of rudderless, self-repressed teenager Alex (an utterly compelling Gabe Nevins), who is drawn to the titular skateboarding park that separates the men from the boys. From there, a notional friendship leads to criminal activity that ends in tragedy. Unable to process, much less reconcile, the events or shape his response, Alex simply does nothing. For lack of experience and wisdom, he reduces manslaughter to a problem that can be ignored through skateboarding. But is simple youth reason enough to excuse murderous behaviour? A fence-sitting Van Sant leaves judicial choices to the viewer. He’s not calling the shots.
Based on Blake Nelson’s popular novel, Paranoid Park loops, ducks and weaves about the topic while building an impressive head of expressive steam. It’s a subtle approach that quietly expands the tone of Van Sant’s lissome Elephant with some success. Although a twang of the recognisable haunts the production, cinematographers Kathy Li and Christopher Doyle (Rabbit Proof Fence) bring unique visual energy to a style that oscillates between bewildering and bewitching. A cast of newcomers (sourced in part from a cast-call on MySpace) lend substantial weight, mesmerising in their tangible, irritating, somewhat irrational ingenuousness. The familiar tone will distance some viewers and Van Sant’s refusal to judge Alex will alienate others. Those who see Paranoid Park as a timely exploration of failing innocence will find no fault.
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