Alex (Gabe Nevins) is a teenager living in Portland, Oregon. A schoolboy and a kewl sk8ter. His parents are getting divorced, he has a pushy shallow girlfriend (Taylor Momsen) and he is writing a story he needs to tell us.
We see him hanging out at a skate park under a bridge, then at school. He gets pulled out of class one day to talk to Detective Liu (Daniel Liu). A security guard has been killed at some railway sidings. Alex is closely questioned but nothing seems out of place. His skater friend Jared (Jake Miller) has suggested going to a legendary skate park – Paranoid Park. One night he goes there to hang out. He comes home but seems to be acting strangely.
One evening he watches the news and hearing a story about a security guard being killed, is visibly shocked. The story is beginning to unfold and goes back in time. Detective Liu has arrived at the school to speak to a group skaters including Alex. He wants to build links with the ‘skating community’ as he believes a skater from the adjacent Paranoid Park may have killed the guard after a skate board is recovered from the river with DNA evidence. The group are shown a picture of a man’s body in two halves across a railway line. This jogs something in Alex’s mind.
We go back to the night in question and see the full situation. Alex is coerced by an older skater (Scott Patrick Green) into riding a freight train. The security guard sees them and starts hitting them with a club. Alex hits back with his skateboard and the man falls beneath a passing train. Alex gets rid of the evidence by throwing his skateboard into the river. He goes home, showers and blocks it from his mind.
We see some of the earlier events of the film and understand their context now. His girlfriend wants to lose her virginity and we see a scene where it’s doubtful that it actually takes place. Alex doesn’t care and they break up. He is closer to his friend Macey (Lauren McKinney), who suggests he writes an unsent letter to her about what’s bothering him and we are back to the start of the film.
As a non-linear film, Paranoid Park is very effective and clear. Gus Van Sant has created a brilliant perspective of teenage life in his home city – Portland. We see numerous slow-motion sequences including skaters airborne in a dreamy ambience. Tracking shots in front of Alex as he slowly and self-consciously walks through school corridors. Pretty much Van Sant’s hallmarks. The carefully chosen music alternates between every genre, electroacoustic piano, Billy Swan, Elliott Smith, classical, thrash metal… It gives cues to the mood which shifts between urban teenage day-to-day life and internal fear.
Gabe Nevins is perfectly cast. He has cool, young carefree, sexy looks and as a non-professional actor who just turned up as a 16 year old skate boarding extra, is utterly incredible. He manages to deliver the part completely naturalistically and narrates Alex’s thoughts to us. The rest of the cast likewise, seem to be playing themselves and were recruited using MySpace – so it’s obviously good for something. An intelligent and complete film with true artistry.
Vaguely arty American director whose films never seem quite as satisfying as they should. Drugstore Cowboy remains his best effort, Even Cowgirls Get The Blues undoubtedly his worst. My Own Private Idaho, To Die For, Columbine shootings-based Elephant and Kurt Cobain-inspired Last Days have their fans, and Good Will Hunting was a big success, but the scene-for-scene Psycho remake must be his oddest venture. After a decade of experimentation, including desert trek oddity Gerry, he returned to the mainstream in 2008 with the award-winning biopic Milk.