Review: Prince Avalanche
Based on a 2011 Icelandic film, writer-director David Gordon Green’s Prince Avalanche tells the story of stick-in-the-mud Alvin (Paul Rudd) and horndog Lance (Emile Hirsch). The pair spend the summer of 1988 repainting the highway in a forest-fire-damaged stretch of central Texas and bickering over just about everything. Besides being Alvin’s assistant, Lance is the brother of Alvin’s girlfriend, Madison. Whereas Alvin revels in the solitude of nature, Lance prattles on about his pathetic sexual conquests and near-misses (“We almost went full lamb chop!”), which he recounts in mind-numbing detail. The two men share a small tent, mutual incomprehension, and eventually, a sense of understanding and deep friendship.
Every so often, the men cross paths with an affable elderly truck driver (Lance LeGault) who offers them large quantities of moonshine and his own philosophical musings. They also encounter a woman who helplessly sifts through the ruins of her former house, reduced to ashes by the fire. Mostly, though, Lance and Alvin have only one another for company.
Sporting a sizeable mustache and wide-rimmed glasses, Paul Rudd gives an excellent performance as a man whose self-serious approach to self-sufficiency makes him difficult to relate to, but also somehow sympathetic. (At one point, Alvin asks Lance incredulously how he could have possibly gone through life without learning to gut a fish.) Penning long, awkwardly poetic letters to Madison from his tent, Alvin is a throwback, and if his streak of Emersonian self-reliance is noble, it also complicates his domestic aspirations. Lance and Alvin have a kind of Beckett-inflected masculine partnership that shares elements with Kelly Reichardt’s Old Joy.
Prince Avalanche has more in common with Green’s earlier work as a director which earned him comparisons to Terrence Malick—All the Real Girls (03), Undertow (04)—than with his later, more commercial comedies, Pineapple Express (08) and The Sitter (11). His new film’s slow pace, meandering dialogue, and snark-free sense of humor contribute to its pleasing and distinctive feel. The journey taken by Alvin and Lance has few plot points, but the film is remarkably gripping and rich. Earnest without being sappy, Prince Avalanche is a movie about relationships, and how unlikely ones can blossom under the proper circumstances.
Cinematographer Tim Orr imparts a strong visual style that makes the post-inferno Texas woodland setting come alive and contributes to the film’s surreal feel. There are some lovely shots of nature—from a tangle of tree branches set against the blood-colored dusk to the image of a solitary Alvin contentedly frying up a foraged dinner. A spot-on original score by Explosions in the Sky and David Wingo contributes mightily to the film. A film unlike any now out there, Prince Avalanche is a genuine affirmation of taking the road less travelled.