Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Run Time: 1 hour, 34 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Paul Rudd, Emile Hirsch, Lance LeGault, Joyce Payne
Based on the original story by Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurdsson
Written & Directed by David Gordon Green (The Sitter, Your Highness, Pineapple Express, Undertow)
If you've ever wondered what it was like to camp with Paul Rudd, Prince Avalanche (opening today) is the film for you. There are long, patient shots of him waking up, cooking on the grill, making coffee and taking in the morning air. Of course, that's not all there is to this film, but it's darn close.
Rudd plays Alvin, a prim and proper highway road worker spending the Summer of 1988 off of the land and away from the big city. He has recruited his girlfriend's younger brother, Lance (Emile Hirsch), to work alongside him. Set just after the horrific Yellowstone wildfires of that year, the two work to repair roads damaged by the flames, painting nice yellow dashes down the middle of these wide, open roads through the burnt rubble of what once was something magnificent.
To say there isn't much more going on than that is both accurate and a disservice. Director David Gordon Green - best known for his outrageous comedy direction in movies like The Sitter and Pineapple Express - deliberately sets a monotonous tone, where shots go on and an as if they aren't aware that other shots will follow. This pacing gives Prince Avalanche an indy-vibe that matches the desolate landscape in which the film is set.
Much of the film seems meditative, in the way that some people go off camping to get away from the high-speed craziness of everyday life, where being in nature seems to bring a sense of peace and clarity. The film seems as if it has happily purged all responsibilities and expectations that the audience may possess. There are no major conflicts, no instinct to portray things too stylistically and no real desire to include drama. This both frees Prince Avalancheand shackles it, because the looser it takes itself, the harder it is for the audience to grasp anything substantial.
The film is trying to say something, I think. Alvin, at first, is disappointed in young Lance's work ethic and overall approach to life. But stuck in the woods and on the job together, the two eventually are there for each other in unexpected ways. Set against the backdrop of rebuilding the forest, these characters truly believe in change and survival.
This is very much an actor's film, with Rudd and Hirsch giving very subtle yet convincing performances. There are hardly any other actors in the film at all. At one point, Alvin happens across an old lady (Joyce Payne), who is rummaging through the ashes of what was once her home. An unnamed boss (Lance LeGault), shows up a few times to check on his crew, and to give them some liquor.
So while there are some positive things to take away from Prince Avalanche, it's going to be a hard sell for audiences, who are conditioned - for good or for bad - to expect something to happen. Not much happens here, but as an exercise of character and tone, Prince Avalanche is quite effective.
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