Paranoid Park (R)

Drama 80 March 7, 2008
By J.hoberman
Gus Van Sant’s debut, the 1985 Mala Noche, was a moody drizzle of images evoking the manager of a Portland skid-row convenience store’s hopeless infatuation with a Mexican street kid. That cheapster was followed by wary engagement with the mainstream in the form of star vehicles and feel-good Oscar fodder. Van Sant returns to the Pacific Northwest and minimalist low-budget filmmaking with Paranoid Park. But in telling the tale of a Portland skater kid involved in the accidental death of a railroad bull, Van Sant comes close to inventing his own film language. The movie’s key scene has hero Alex (Gabe Nevins) venturing alone to the concrete amphitheater that gives the film its name. Alex muses that he wishes he had more feeling for his almost-girlfriend and then leaves Paranoid Park with an older, vaguely dangerous guy named Scratch, who is going to show him how to hop a freight train. Alex will spend much of the movie trying to articulate what happened next, but it does involve seeing a man sliced in half. What’s truly uncanny about Paranoid Park is not so much the trauma Alex suffers, but the way his world is made to shimmer with adolescent magic. He may be lost, but Paranoid Park is wonderfully lucid: It makes confusion something tangible and heartbreak the most natural thing in life.
Gus Van Sant Gabe Nevins, Daniel Liu, Jake Miller, Taylor Momsen, Lauren McKinney, Winfield Jackson, Joe Schweitzer, Grace Carter, Scott Patrick Green, John Michael Burrowes Gus Van Sant, Blake Nelson David Cress, Charles Gilibert, Nathanaël Karmitz, Neil Kopp IFC First Take

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