Review: Prince Avalanche
PLOT: In the summer of 1988, two vastly different men spend their time as highway road workers. While on the job they discover just how much the isolated journey they have taken will affect everything about their very lives.
After years of lending his directing talents to not-so-subtle comedies such as PINEAPPLE EXPRESS, THE SITTER and YOUR HIGHNESS, David Gordon Green returns to a simple, character driven tale in his latest, PRINCE AVALANCE. The film features Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch as two highway road workers in 1988 passing the time while life back home seemingly goes on without them. It is a thoughtful and sometimes funny exploration of the two men and the relationship they share. While Green’s return to drama lacks the emotional impact of some of his earlier films including SNOW ANGELS and ALL THE REAL GIRLS, it is a refreshing change of pace during this summer movie season.
Paul Rudd plays Alvin, a sensitive loner who takes on a job that keeps him far away from his girlfriend. As a favor, he has hired on her brother Lance (Hirsch) who finds the isolated life on the road terribly dull. The two have little in common aside from the girl – who is never seen – yet at times they connect thanks to the nature of the job. The two disagree often, including over the “boom box” and whether they listen to Alvin’s language tapes or a little bit of rock and roll. Alvin wants to just enjoy the solitude while Lance longs for a little sexual satisfaction and like many a young man, suffers from acute horniness. With the open road as their home, the only other souls they encounter are a truck driver (Lance LeGault) who offers them booze and a woman (Joyce Payne) who lost her home in a fire.
There is something special about David Gordon Green’s work when he paints a portrait of slightly quirky everyday life. Green – who adapted the script based on Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson’s Iclandic film EITHER WAY – ably translates the material to create a moving piece of Americana. The themes of loneliness, betrayal, love and lust are all eloquently explored in a natural and humorous way. The film even addresses the aftermath of a forest fire without pulling too hard on the heartstring angle which would have been the more obvious approach. When Alvin discovers the previously mentioned “Lady” (Payne) she is wandering around the wreckage of what once was her home. It is a strange yet beautiful scene that is impressively life affirming, even though it certainly is a little bit sad.
Thankfully one of the most important factors here is that Green brought two very gifted actors into this world with both Rudd and Hirsch creating such inspired characters. The two play off each other effortlessly as they argue, get drunk or do very little of anything at all. It is no surprise that Hirsch can pull off something of this nature looking back at his fantastic work in Sean Penn’s INTO THE WILD. He presents Lance with a youthful arrogance that still manages to be awkwardly engaging. Just as terrific is Rudd who sheds a little of the Apatow humor by giving Alvin a fantastically wounded appeal. He is a complex man who is confident yet extremely sensitive to the world around him. His frustration with the younger and wilder Lance is that of a man who never had the chance to really revel in youth and have fun. It is a fascinating dynamic that the two share throughout.
As good as PRINCE AVALANCHE may be, the film is deliberately paced – and yes, that means slow. This may have something to do with the lack of tension that made SNOW ANGELS so moving, as well as much of his other work. It is certainly easy to connect to Alvin and Lance, yet the emotional core is weaker here than his previous films. This is not to say that there is no conflict or a lingering darkness, it is there but not nearly as powerful as it might have been. Maybe because of the director’s recent comedic ventures, the humor is more apparent here and that takes a bit away from the emotionally charged element of it all.
In the end, PRINCE AVALANCHE is a beautiful film. Whether its focus is on brief images of a burning forest or just the simplicity of the wilderness, Green and his longtime cinematographer Tim Orr ably capture the landscape with beauty and skill. Yet it never takes away from the story at hand and the focus of these two men. In addition, the score by David Wingo and Explosions in the Sky is absolutely beautiful. Put it all together and this is a definite reminder of just how good it is to see the director return to this type of storytelling. Much like their early examinations of Middle America, AVALANCHE feels uniquely like David Gordon Green and I for one am thankful for that.