With this freewheeling adaptation of Blake Nelson’s young adult novel, Gus Van Sant returns to the territory he mined successfully in 2003’s Elephant. Where that film examined teenage behaviour through the extreme event of high school shootings reminiscent of the Columbine massacre, Paranoid Park attempts something similar via the fictional story of a skate kid who accidentally kills.
As was the case with Elephant, the new film follows its teenage subjects at a distance, suggesting today’s kids are unknowable to adults and vice versa. But where the earlier film tracked a number of protagonists, Paranoid Park focuses on one, Alex (Gabe Nevins), a quiet, passive kid who allows himself to be led around – and astray – by, variously, his girlfriend, his skater pal and the older kids at the local skate park that gives the film its title. Van Sant takes his investigation of teen behaviour further by approximating the point of view of the distracted, disconnected and disaffected Alex with a chopped up, non-linear narrative, slow motion, shaky and static camerawork using multiple film stocks, under- and over-exposed (courtesy of ace cinematographer Chris Doyle, who takes a cameo as the boy’s uncle), and discordant sound effects coupled with an anachronistic soundtrack.
All of this certainly looks and sounds quite lovely, but Van Sant takes it a bit too far, even working into the film incongruous homages to Hitchcock films The Birds and Psycho. The cumulative effect of all this stylistic playfulness eventually becomes tedious. Such cinematic indulgence might have been more acceptable had the film had more to say about its subject matter. The rather trite conclusion, however, merely suggests kids just don’t really care about the adult world, and clumsily underscores that thin notion by equating Alex’s lack of guilt about killing a man with his disinterest in the war in Iraq. And? (Miles Fielder)
Cameo, Edinburgh and selected release from Fri 28 Dec.