Paranoid Park (2007, Gus Van Sant)

Nice movie… felt really good walking out of this one.

Shot by my hero Christopher Doyle with lots of slow-motion, but looks more idiosyncratic in Van Sant’s style than in Doyle’s. Shot in 1.33:1 aspect ratio (thankfully respected at the Plaza). I notice light levels slowly fluctuating. I see Van Sant’s long, wandering shots and his slooow forward camera movement like in Last Days and Elephant, but seriously toned down now, not calling attention to themselves anymore. Regular story segments are buffered by 8mm skate footage. The soundtrack was the most surprising part. Music is usually playing, and it’s all over the map, from suspenseful Bernard Herrmann sounding pieces (actually Nino Rota’s circus-noir), thrash punk, glitchy ambient music, singing in French, a cowboy song heard twice, some hip hop, a bit of indie rock (Menomena), bird calls (!) and two Elliott Smith songs (which did not remind me of Good Will Hunting, but it’s understandable that reviewers keep bringing that up).


Acting ranged from very good to great with a nonprofessional cast (except surprisingly for our guy’s girlfriend, who starred in Jim Carrey’s Grinch and other high-profile stuff). Story is told out of order, as is so fashionable now, with flashbacks and diary-entry narration. Never flashy with the editing, the flow and pacing really work for the story, so the non-chronological thing is never annoying. No Kids (or even Elephant) style gratuitous teen sex, even when there was a convenient spot for it in the story – thanks for that.

And the story, wow, smaller and more intimate than you’d expect from the trailer, with real depth and feeling for our lead character Alex. He’s a low-key skater kid, hangs out with his friends Jared and Macy and girlfriend Jennifer, deals with his excitable younger brother and his divorcing parents. Then one day he goes to the title skate park alone, goes off to play on the train tracks with a cool older kid and accidentally causes the death of a security guard. Tension mounts when a detective comes to school to question all the kids, and later (actually revealed earlier than the group interrog.) questions Alex alone. The detective isn’t a bad guy, and wants to solve this crime, but Alex feels horrible for what he’s done, and we do not want to see him locked up. At the end there’s no scene where the detective sighs to his partner “I guess we’ll have to rule this one an accident”, but we assume Alex gets away with it. He writes his confession in a journal then burns the pages, freed (or at least partially relieved) of his guilty burden. It’s a beautiful ending, one of my favorites of recent years.


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