Gus Van Sant’s so-called “Death Trilogy” may have culminated two years ago with crowning achievement Last Days, but to judge by his latest film, Paranoid Park, the entropic weight of mortality is still very much at the center of the filmmaker’s concerns. Moving beyond the Death Trilogy’s Béla Tarr-grafted stories of self- and other-inflicted violence, Van Sant now tinkers with his trademark stylistic oddities, nonlinear narrative devices, and thematic ideas to fashion a heterogeneous, experimental grab bag that even for him and his death obsession becomes seemingly familiar and evocatively strange.
And also just as often only strangely familiar and seemingly strange. By Last Days, Van Sant had mastered the Tarr template and in the process made it his own; with Paranoid Park he’s starting to reinvent himself yet again, but just as Gerry was an interesting but awkward first attempt in creating significant distance from late Nineties commercial efforts like Good Will Hunting and the remade Psycho, so may Park ultimately prove a transitional step into gradually more assured territory. No longer content to remain at arm’s length from his brooding protagonists as in the Death Trilogy, here Van Sant plunges (though not completely, as there’s still a layer of depth that refuses to be permeated) into the troubled subjectivity of teenage skate brat Alex (amateur actor Gabe Nevins, who along with the film’s other young actors auditioned via myspace), who accidentally causes the death of a night watchman while hopping a train. In representing that subjectivity, Van Sant’s arsenal of aesthetic tricks, including a few carryovers from his My Own Private Idaho days, yields wildly disparate results: at its worst, Paranoid Park plays like an affected, artified “reclamation” of hackneyed Warp Tour-era skater poses, with endless repetitions of grainy super-8 and languid slo-mo shots indulging Van Sant’s prurient gaze and naively intending to impart the dreamworld of romantically disaffected youth.
Click here to read Michael Joshua Rowin on Paranoid Park.
Also, earlier: Michael Koresky on Paranoid Park:
Paranoid Park is most notable for the ways it effectively synthesizes the early and later parts of Van Sant’s film career, melding the angsty male character studies of Mala Noche, Drugstore Cowboy, and the River Phoenix sections of My Own Private Idaho with the heavier formal experimentation of the “Death Trilogy.” And Van Sant’s ever-tightening technical precision here shows how far he’s come: whereas today, Drugstore and Idaho seem like patchwork assemblies of early indie trends (Drugstore’s “trippy” drug scenes and erratic, at times misplaced irony) and narrative spare parts (Idaho was a compendium of three separate story treatments that Van Sant smooshed together during preproduction), Paranoid Park shows a remarkable sense of focus, if not purpose. The entire article here..