Paranoid Park is an intensely hypnotic chronicle of one boy's travails through the Portland skateboarding scene. When Alex gets ditched by his friend Jared one night, he decides to head over to Paranoid Park, the skate park on the edge of town where all of the hard core skaters hang out. There, he meets a few scrappy older kids. One of them invites him to go ride the freight trains with him, and they head off to a nearby train yard. While riding the trains, a security guard tries to beat them with a bat to get them down, but Alex gives him a good smack across the face with his skateboard causing the guard to fall over onto another set of tracks, where his body is cut cleanly in half by an oncoming train. The other boy runs off, leaving Alex to deal with the aftermath.
Paranoid Park sticks with Van Sant's recent, almost documentary style that he's used his last couple of films to perfect. Like Gerry, Elephant, and Last Days, Van Sant follows the story of Alex in an incredibly matter of fact way, giving the audience very little ups or downs, but instead letting the entire story rest on the shoulders of the interaction between characters. In other words - If you don't like character driven stories, you WILL NOT like this film. There's no high tension between Alex and the detective who suspects that he knows more than he's saying, no judgement placed on Alex for what he has done, it is simply a story about a young boy who makes a series of choices and where those choices take him.
The film, as I said before, is incredibly hypnotic. Van Sant intersperses a lot of Super 8 into the skateboarding scenes, and gives pieces of the film an almost pastoral feel. Christopher Doyle, the legendary Hong Kong cinematographer who has lensed all of Wong Kar Wai's best films, lends some of his trademark visuals to the film, and gives me the sense that the two of these guys together could make an unstoppable team when it comes to visuals. Van Sant continues his use of, primarily, unknown actors in the film, as evidenced especially by Alex's friend Macy (played by Lauren McKinney). While McKinney is not bad, she has some of those junior high theater class moments where you think "Okay, she needs a little bit more practice...". Van Sant has seen both ups and downs with this choice, having launched a few careers, but also populating some of his films with people that just shouldn't be on camera until they have some more experience under their belt.