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Paranoid Park (IFC Films, R)

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film_paranoid_sm.jpgIn other words, it's Van Sant's revisit to his earlier work, specifically Mala Noche and My Own Private Idaho, with age on his side.







Paranoid Park represents the pinnacle of Gus Van Sant's career change. After receiving financial stability after Good Will Hunting and Finding Forrester, the director amiably drifted off-course with his Trilogy of Death (Gerry, Elephant, Last Days), and Paranoid Park stands as a kind of epilogue. It's certainly not as deconstructive or alienating as the Trilogy of Death, though death becomes the central focus of the film as a teenaged skater (Gabe Nevins) accidentally kills a security guard. Instead, Paranoid Park is more of a poetic narrative, pensive but not distant. In other words, it's Van Sant's revisit to his earlier work, specifically Mala Noche and My Own Private Idaho, with age on his side.

Paranoid Park's strongest asset comes from Christopher Doyle, the astounding cinematographer of, most notably, the films of Wong Kar-wai. Doyle and Van Sant previously collaborated on Psycho, which all of us would prefer to forget, but Paranoid Park marks a change in Doyle's work, leaning toward subtle and grainy as opposed to sumptuous and beautiful. It's actually when Van Sant and Doyle linger upon their wordless subjects that the film reaches its high points. One might also notice the use of Elliott Smith on the soundtrack, who was featured prominently (and Oscar-nominated) in Good Will Hunting. There's an eeriness about Van Sant's use of his music posthumously that certainly adds to tone of the film.

Though Paranoid Park certainly marks a wonderful point in Van Sant's career, it's hard not to criticize the director for his unorthodox casting, finding the majority of his subjects via MySpace. He strives for naturalness in his subjects but gives his "actors" a lot more to do in Paranoid Park than Elephant, where the teenagers roam the hallways of the school zombie-like. Nevins and Taylor Momsen, as his girlfriend, are, quite frankly, lousy actors, and though Van Sant's heart was in the right place, they become a bit of a distraction when they have to open their mouths. Otherwise, Paranoid Park epitomizes the obsessions of a director who's never followed the path expected of him. | Joe Bowman

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