05 December 2009

The Decade List: Paranoid Park (2007)

Paranoid Park – dir. Gus Van Sant

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.

The strongest element to Paranoid Park is Christopher Doyle and Rain Kathy Li’s immaculate cinematography. Doyle and Van Sant previously collaborated on Psycho, which most of us would prefer to forget (coincidentally though, the most memorable scenes of both films have the lead characters showering), but Paranoid Park marks a change in Doyle's work, leaning toward subtle and grainy as opposed to sumptuous and beautiful, best seen in the various Wong Kar-wai films he lensed. 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, whose music was featured prominently (and Oscar-nominated) in Good Will Hunting. The use of Smith’s music posthumously certainly adds to tone of the film; hell, his music always had the taste of melancholy.

Though Paranoid Park marked 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. The entire cast is quite lousy, 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 never followed the path expected of him.

With: Gabe Nevins, Dan Liu, Jake Miller, Taylor Momsen, Lauren McKinney, Scott Green, Christopher Doyle
Screenplay: Gus Van Sant, based on the novel by Blake Nelson
Cinematography: Christopher Doyle, Rain Kathy Li
Country of Origin: USA/France
US Distributor: IFC Films

Premiere: 21 May 2007 (Cannes Film Festival)
US Premiere: 7 October 2007 (New York Film Festival)

Awards: 60th Anniversary Prize (Cannes Film Festival); Producers Award – Neil Kopp (Independent Spirit Awards)

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