David Gordon Green’s Prince Avalanche feels as warm as reading a great short story. There isn’t a heck of a lot going on in terms of a plot, nor does there particularly need to be. Based on Icelandic filmmaker Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson’s 2011 film Either Way, Green goes back to his independent filmmaking roots after a string of high profile Hollywood comedies (Pineapple Express, Your Highness, The Sitter) and there’s a renewed energy to his work here. It’s essentially just a film where two men realize how they’ve wasted their lives while stuck together doing menial labour, but there’s a lot of warmth and depth to the characters and their emotional plights are unforced, simply constructed, and very effectively performed.
It’s 1988 and wildfires from the previous year have destroyed the forests and roads just outside of Garland, Texas. Alvin (Paul Rudd) is tasked with hammering downed route markers and painting new lines on the twisty back roads, with only the aloof slacker Lance (Emile Hirsch) as a co-worker. The perpetually horny and boorish Lance is the brother or Alvin’s wife. Alvin enjoys camping out in the woods at the end of a hard day’s work and he seemingly wants to do anything other than going back to the city (despite a daughter and an increasingly frustrated wife living there). Lance simply wants to get out and blow all his money every weekend in hopes of getting laid.
Full of beautiful, long, contemplative takes and set to a luscious score (courtesy of David Wingo and Explosions in the Sky), Prince Avalanche is a two person character piece, which might make it sound a feel a bit like a stage play, but in the capable hands of Rudd and Hirsch it’s a delight to watch. Rudd is phenomenal as the emotionally repressed and possibly more dangerously aloof of the pair. He reminds everyone who has really just been watching him for his impeccable comedic timing over the years that he can still knock a dramatic role out of the park every now and then. Hirsch has always been a likeable screen presence, but this might just be his best performance to date, especially when a second act twist will cause both men to join together in a shared kind of sullenness.
With Rudd and Hirsch doing almost all of the lifting, both light and heavy, Green doesn’t really need to do very much except know where to put the camera. It’s not the most ambitious of projects seeing that he started his career with such excellent and comparable works as George Washington and All the Real Girls, but his exploration into the causes, neuroses, and feelings surrounding male loneliness certainly has a lot more going for it than his last several efforts. The scaled back approach serves the film, its directors, and its stars really well.