Another lovingly-shot tone poem about disaffected youth from Gus Van Sant, Paranoid Park will remind many of the director's earlier, stronger Elephant, though it is even more abstract and less disturbing. The movie follows a teenage skateboarder named Alex (Gabe Nevins, a newcomer like most of the rest of the Portland-based cast), basically a good kid, as he is quietly overcome by guilt after the horrific death of a security guard near the titular skateboard park. The story teases at the extent of Alex's involvement until a fairly startling mid-movie revelation smacks us in the face with it. (This sudden flash of violence in an otherwise lackadaisical narrative is becoming a trademark for Van Sant.)
Nevins is quite good in his debut role, and Van Sant, celebrated cinematographer Christopher Doyle, and sound designer Leslie Shatz create a unique mood that reflects Alex's increasingly, well, paranoid conscience. Paranoid Park's eccentric soundtrack - a lot of cues are lifted from Nino Rota's campy '60s score to Juliet of the Spirits - as well as its heavy use of slow motion may turn some viewers off, but I found these flourishes to add to the film's distinctive flavor.
I wasn't nearly as moved by Paranoid Park as I was by Elephant or even by Van Sant's achingly slow Gerry, but I still found it a satisfying and genuinely new-feeling film. At a time when most American movies have been treading the same artistic and narrative ground for over a decade now, Paranoid Park, though slighter and more forgettable than it could have been, still feels like a breath of fresh air.