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Originally published Friday, March 21, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Movie review

Gus Van Sant films skateboarding rebels without a cause

Gus Van Sant's capper to a trilogy of experiments in elliptical narrative and lyrical structure is a masterful triumph of art, craft and...

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 3.5 stars

"Paranoid Park," with Gabe Nevins, Daniel Liu, Taylor Momsen, Jake Miller, Lauren McKinney. Written and directed by Gus Van Sant. 84 minutes. Rated R for some disturbing images, language and sexual content. Neptune.

Gus Van Sant's capper to a trilogy of experiments in elliptical narrative and lyrical structure is a masterful triumph of art, craft and empathy for the complicatedness of being a real teenager. With "Paranoid Park," Van Sant has solidified his niche as a singular American film auteur whose vision melds formal skill and abstract invention with an intuitive sense of the poetry movies can exploit to convey their unique interpretation of life.

The title refers to a concrete skateboard bowl where kids castoff and wannabes congregate to sniff each other out and show off moves. Lured from the periphery is 17-year-old Alex (Gabe Nevins), a boy whose brooding, soulful life of mundane adolescent angst is hijacked by dread after a horrific accident in the nearby train yards.

Alex's story is told through a series of hastily scribbled journal entries. We pick up the unordered events in a shifting sequence of moments stolen from a life that includes sexual unease, parental neglect and the growing perception that right and wrong don't have to be objective certainties. Specific details unfold like a daydream, often without a great deal of context other than the floating bodies of skateboarders captured in crisp slow-motion clarity or grainy handheld confusion.

"Sorry this is a little out of order," he writes. "I didn't do so well in creative writing."

Van Sant employs a minimalist style similar to his previous ruminations on youth and moral ambiguity, "Elephant" (2003) and "Last Days" (2005), but with much more fluidity and grace. An eclectic assortment of music and tone poems accompany the expressionistic build of manipulated images (shot by Christopher Doyle) to create an atmosphere of elegant lackadaisical worry. It's a spot-on complement to the disquiet and apathy that Alex experiences in equal extremes until he's finally able to release his worry as ashes in the wind.

Van Sant adapted the script from a young-adult novel by Blake Nelson. Though not necessarily the target audience, teenagers will doubtless find a great deal of truth in how these characters talk, interact and lead their thorny lives. Along with many of the other young actors, Nevins was cast through notices on MySpace, and he is an extremely appealing, naturalistic presence.

Another essential component are the gritty locations in and around Van Sant's hometown of Portland. From the Eastside Bridge skatepark that is teased from every angle, to the scudding skies over the Oregon coast, the places these characters inhabit have as much bearing on their psychic states as the things they do.

Ted Fry: tedfry@hotmail.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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