Alex (Gave Nevins) is sixteen and, aside from navigating the usual hurdles of adolescence, school, girls and life in general, his parents have recently undergone a messy separation. His escape is to hang out with his buddy Jared (Jake Miller), and together they discover
Alex is a fairly normal kid but everything changes one evening when he goes to
Of Van Sant’s films, Paranoid Park (winner of the 2007
Other stylistic devices convey Alex’s fractured state of mind, such as the use of a varied range of eclectic music. Similarly effective is the use of slow motion, creating a dreamy ambience that complements the music at times, or contrasts at others, the music.
The film opens to the sounds of an ambient French track that matches the imagery of skaters floating through space, defying gravity. In fact,
The depiction of grownups from a teenage perspective is fascinating. When in frame, they either have their backs to us, or cinematographer Chris Doyle’s use of long lenses to strictly control focus means we mostly see them as a blur. They are not absent, but don’t figure prominently in Alex’s world. This is also subtly accentuated in conversations. “It’s not like she cares”, moans Alex about his mother when questioned about his movements.
We do, however, clearly see Detective Richard Liu (real-life detective, Daniel Liu). His strong presence shakes Alex’s out of his dreamy inner world and gives us a more grounded reference point within the story. His quiet intensity as he faces off with Alex at a crucial moment is as emotionally powerful as anything I have ever experienced on screen. This is when the true impact of Alex’s ordeal, as well as Van Sant’s genuine empathy for his characters is fully revealed.
Cast with mostly non-professionals, much has been made of Van Sant’s casting call via MySpace, though apparently none of the main actors were found in this way. Van Sant has used improvisation with the actors, resulting in dialogue full of authenticity, light-years from the slick depictions of youth in contemporary cinema. His characters, both adults and youths, sometimes struggle with their words. The performances were terrific.
In fact, I find it hard to fault the film in any way. The cinematography is stunningly natural, the music is entrancing and the story is compelling. Technically, the most impressive aspect is careful construction of the story through editing (by Van Sant himself).
Starting with Gerry, this film caps off four consecutive films Van Sant has made in a minimalist style he is making his own. All four of them are concerned with youth and death. In Gerry, one Gerry kills the other; in Elephant, two youths kill a number of fellow students; and in Last Days, Blake, a pseudo Kurt Cobain, takes his own life. In
I include below some useful links, including
Official website / Q&A with Gus Van Sant / Jake Wilson’s review / Gus Van Sant interview / The Evening Class question for GVS / TimeOut interview / EyeWeekly interview / Taylor Momsen interview / Making of Paranoid Park video / Various trailers and interviews